Safety on the Jobsite
Top considerations for heat safety, glass handling and transportation
Above: A Nortex Glass & Mirror employee wears a safety shield while working.
When it comes to handling, transporting and working with glass in general, remaining safe is of the utmost importance. Safety practices and safety equipment help keep glass industry workers safe from the factory to the jobsite, and everything in between. But it’s important to know when and how properly employ safety measures and to use protective tools and equipment.
This article takes a closer look at worker safety for the glass industry, focusing on jobsite safety for glaziers, including transportation and heat safety.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for glass and glazing contractors in 2020, there were 2.7 total recordable cases of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses per 100 workers. This is higher than the injury and illness rate for all building construction workers—2.3 per 100 workers. Of the injuries and illnesses for glass and glazing contractors, 56 percent resulted in days missed from work.
The four most common types of accidents for construction workers include falls, electrocution, caught-in and struck-by, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which calls these the “fatal four.” Glaziers have additional safety considerations, including safe glass handling, glass transportation, vacuum cup safety and more.
Heat exposure is also a dangerous safety concern for those in the glass industry. From 2011 to 2019, the BLS reported 344 worker-related deaths in the United States were due to environmental heat exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1992 and 2016, 285 construction workers died from heat-related causes, more than one-third of all U.S. occupational deaths from heat exposure. Workplace safety experts also believe the actual number of heat-related fatalities may be underreported or misreported as another cause, such as heart attacks, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Safety in the Glass Factory
While this article focuses on the jobsite, safety is also paramount in the factory. Glass manufacturers had a total recordable incidence rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses of 2.9 cases per 100 full-time workers in 2020, with flat glass manufacturers at 3.3 cases. Among those injuries and illnesses for glass manufacturers, about 70 percent resulted in days missed from work.
Among manufacturers, leading causes of injury include: contact with objects and equipment; overexertion and other bodily reactions; falls, slips and trips; repetitive motion; and exposure to harmful substances or environments, according to data from the National Safety Council. Companies in the glass industry must account for the above hazards as well as more industry-specific threats, including cuts and lacerations from glass, getting caught in/between glass racks and injuries from falling glass.
To ensure safe handling on the jobsite, glaziers must follow safety guidelines for manual and mechanical handling, and carefully follow guidelines for any lifting equipment. (See the National Glass Association’s MyGlassClass.com safety bundle for more.)
Barbara Murphy, marketing liaison for Woods Powr-Grip, says that glass handling has become more challenging for glaziers in recent years due to larger sizes, more unitized systems, curved glass and irregular shapes. Glaziers are tasked with maneuvering panels that are heavier and may require different equipment, such as counter-weight balancers, says Murphy.
“Counter-balancers as a whole helps get the glass into the desired position without large operator forces or other questionable methods,” explains Murphy. “This is particularly valuable for big and curved glass applications.”
Murphy adds that the most important things for a glazier to remember when handling glass are to monitor the vacuum level, remember safety protocol (like using tag lines), wear safety gear and avoid being under the load.
Additionally, companies must remember general maintenance, including ensuring that vacuum pads, the power system, the vacuum system and the structure are in good condition. Murphy says that using aged or weathered vacuum pads is too often overlooked.
To maximize safety during an installation, glaziers should develop a lift plan, she adds. This plan can include, but is not limited to, selecting the right lifter with the right power; knowing how fast the process needs to happen and whether special accommodations or capabilities are necessary; consideration of the surface being attached to irregularities, sensitive surfaces, etc.; and ensuring hoisting equipment has adequate capacity, height and reach.
Larger sizes and increasing complexity also affect glass transportation systems, according to glass truck and rack suppliers. Michael Mroczek, creative lead for MyGlassTruck, a glass rack company, says the biggest challenge facing glass transporters today is that installations are increasing in size and becoming more intricate.
“As installations grow in size and become more complex, it is important to make sure that the transportation systems used can accommodate the various types of glass a glazier might carry on a day-to-day basis,” Mroczek says. “With more vehicles on the road today, it’s important to remember that glass transportation vehicles share that space with regular motorists, and their safety is just as important.”
To address this challenge, transporters should use a purpose-built rack to carry glass to the jobsite, secure glass to the rack properly, not exceed rack capacity or truck weight rating and use the right vehicle for the job. John Weise, president of F. Barkow Inc., says that unless there is an accident on the road or a co-worker didn’t secure the glass properly, there is no reason that glass breakage should occur during transportation.
Additionally, Weise says that weight limits must be followed to ensure safe transport. “The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating [GVWR] on the vehicle will determine how much weight can be transported. Human nature tells us ‘Why should I take two trips to move this glass when I can move everything in one trip?’ We need to be conscious of the GVWR; just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should,” Weise says.
Weise adds that self-locking stakes are one of the best safety features in the industry today and that solid welds by skilled craftsmen “are an essential part of any safety program.”
According to Mroczek, a "safety-first" mindset and comprehensive training are the most essential “equipment” needed when moving glass.
Symptoms and Treatments
Common symptoms of heat-related illnesses
- Weakness or dizziness
- Heavy sweating or hot, dry skin
- Elevated body temperature
- Decreased urine output
What should you do?
- Provide water
- Remove unnecessary clothing
- Move to a cooler area
- Cool with water, ice or a fan
- Do not leave alone
- When in doubt, call 911*
*Signs of a medical emergency, when 911 should be called right away, include abnormal thinking or behavior, slurred speech, seizures and loss of consciousness.
Staying safe in extreme heat
In addition to glass handling, glazing contractors should also consider heat safety. For those who work in extreme heat, whether outdoors or indoors, high temperatures can be harmful, and at times potentially lethal.
Occupational risk factors for heat illness include heavy physical activity, warm or hot environmental conditions, lack of acclimatization, and wearing clothing that holds in body heat. Hazardous heat exposure can occur indoors or outdoors, and can occur during any season if the conditions are right, not only during heat waves, according to OSHA.
Most at risk are employees who are new to working in hot environments or those who are returning to work in hot environments. Anywhere from 50 percent to 70 percent of outdoor fatalities occur in the first few days of working in warm or hot environments, because the body needs to build a tolerance to the heat gradually over time.
There are ways that those who work in the heat can keep themselves safe. Drinking cold water, taking breaks and dressing appropriately for the weather are the main ways that workers can stay cool in the heat and prevent heat illness or overexposure. According to OSHA, those working in extreme heat should drink cold water even when they’re not thirsty, as drinking cool water helps lower heart rate, hydrates internal organs and improves focus. The recommended amount is one cup every 20 minutes
Magid, a safety equipment supplier, also suggests employers take the following precautions to keep their workers hydrated: give out cool beverages with additional nutritional and mineral benefits, provide hydrating options other than soda and energy drinks, and place drink stations as close to an employee’s jobsite as possible.
Dressing for the weather is vital when working in the heat. Just like one should wear layers when working in the cold, workers should be equally prepared while working in the heat and sun. Workers outside should wear a hat and light-colored, loose-fitting and breathable clothing if possible.
“Hot, uncomfortable, bulky clothing makes it harder to do the work, so people tend to be less compliant when wearing it. If it’s hot outside or the plant is hot, you’re going to see non-compliance where people are pushing sleeves up, opening their sweater, those kinds of things. Protection, heat stress and clothing all go hand-in-hand for worker protection,” explains Jennifer Walrich, Magid safety expert and manager of growth strategy and product management.
Products that Magid offers for heat safety include hard hat shades, wicking clothing, cooling vests and jackets, and a line of clothing specifically for heat stress. “Cooling products can be utilized to further mitigate the effects of heat stress. Those are not protective products but they do help with alleviating that problem,” Walrich says. Walrich adds that Magid spoke with glaziers and designed its clothing specifically to be breathable, comfortable and lightweight to make work safer for them and meet their needs.
Employees working outside should also take breaks long enough to recover from heat given the temperature, humidity and conditions of the day. Employers should make sure to provide adequate breaks or alternating shifts throughout the day depending on the temperature, humidity and level of work.
According to the CDC, for example, employees performing heavy work in 95-degree weather should work for 45 minutes and rest for 15 minutes on average. The rest-to-work ratio changes depending on the temperature and the level of work being done.
Even when steps are taken to prevent heat illness, it’s still possible to fall susceptible to the extreme heat of the summer while working outdoors, which is why those working outdoors should know the signs of heat illness.
How One Contractor Keeps Its Workers Safe
Aragon Construction Director of Safety Kevin Cork says the biggest challenge with jobsite safety is how the design of construction projects has become more complex over the years, which requires larger, heavier pieces of glass in very interesting locations throughout the building.
“These systems are incredible, but the challenge is we don’t always have the greatest access to utilize the desired equipment for installation,” Cork says. “This has forced us to become creative in our installation process. It takes our entire team—operations, field and safety—to come up with the best installation and safety plan possible.”
Industry product trends such as heavier, larger glass and the emergence of pre-glazed, unitized systems have also affected jobsite safety concerns over the years. Cork says it has altered the way they plan for installation and safety.
“Instead of stick-building smaller openings and possibly working off ladders and/or scaffolds, we are now switching our focus to utilizing specialized equipment like Spyder Cranes and power cups to give us flexibility and maneuverability to access challenging openings that tend to have many constraints,” Cork says.
When it comes to staffing challenges, Corks says Aragon is fortunate to have a “core group” of experienced employees who can educate and support those who are less experienced. They have also increased hands-on training sessions to focus on specialized equipment as well as instituting dry installation runs that simulate different scenarios to ensure crew members know their roles and responsibilities.
“We must never forget to plan for the “what if’s” by ensuring our personnel are prepared and have the proper equipment,” says Cork.
The National Glass Association offers several safety resources for glass companies.
- The NGA’s online learning platform, MyGlassClass.com, offers a course bundle for purchase on safety, which includes online courses on safe glass handling, PPE for working with flat glass, best practices for removing broken glass and more.
- NGA also has a library of free glass technical papers (GTPs), which includes documents like “Guidelines for Handling and Cleaning Decorative Glass,” “The Importance of Fabrication Prior to Heat-Treatment,” and “Safety Guidelines for Deglazing Structural Silicone.” Visit NGA's Store to search these GTPs.
GTPs at the NGA Store