Consumer Reports’ Standard Push Would Require Safety Glazing in Tabletops

The lack of a standard regulating the use of glass in tabletops has led to numerous injuries in the United States, according to the Consumers Union of the U.S., publishers of Consumer Reports magazine. The publication says more than 15,000 people are injured each year in accidents involving glass furniture. Don Mays, director of product safety for Consumer Reports, says that statistic comes from U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data. Mays explained the data is a result of a CPSC survey of hospitals across the country.

“The number is that of emergency room treatments per year,” said Mays. “It does not include [those injured people] who treat themselves at home.”

Armed with this information, Consumer Reports decided to conduct testing of glass tabletops. Mays said that in order to conduct the testing, they purchased tables from mass retailers. They then, simply “broke the glass tables,” said Mays. He explained that to do so they slammed a heavy impact device onto the table. Some tables that were tested contained annealed glass, others contained tempered glass.

Mays said the large, jagged edges of broken annealed glass are what can be dangerous and cause injury. And, according to Consumer Reports, if a table is not labeled “safety glass” consumers should not purchase it.

Addressing the fact that there is no industry standard for furniture glass, Mays said they have made a proposal to ASTM to write one.

Drew Mayberry, president of Lenoir Mirror in Lenoir, N.C., said he is surprised that there are no such standards. Yet if there were a standard for furniture glass it would have minimal affect on domestic producers since so many glass products for furniture are now imported. He says thick glass has been coming in from offshore for years, and the product quality is comparable to that of domestic producers.

“The proactive approach would be for domestic fabricators to establish their own safety specifications without regulatory involvement,” says Mayberry. “Unfortunately, that adds more expense to items that are already being undersold by foreign competition. Ultimately, the consumer or retailer (who is closest to the consumer) will drive the decision as to what should be offered.”

“It’s [the proposal] in its infancy,” he said. “We are asking for a performance/safety standard that requires tabletops to contain safety or tempered glass.”

Some industry experts, however, don’t necessarily agree with Mays’ take on the matter. “There’s lots of glass used in furniture and if you force everyone to have to use tempered glass it will probably reduce the amount sold by about 75 percent,” said Bob Lawrence, president of Craftsman Fabricated Glass in Houston, explaining that tempered glass is more expensive than annealed.

Lawrence says the problem, most likely, isn’t so much that the glass is not tempered, but that thinner annealed glass is being used more and more.

“[Furniture] prices are going down because the glass is getting thinner,” said Lawrence. “The thinner the glass the easier it is to break.”

Jeff Carpenter with Boltz, a furniture manufacturer that produces numerous glass-topped products that also buys domestically-produced glass, said his company has done little research into the types of glass they use.

“The only research we’ve conducted was to find who could make/cut glass to fit our specific sizes,” said Carpenter. “We use standard [annealed] glass in all of our products unless a customer specifically requests special glass and 99.9 percent of the time the request is for a different size. We have had no complaints from any customer concerning our glass.”

Bryan Carter is the president and owner of Memphis-based Glassical Inc., Boltz’s glass supplier. He said a standard that would require safety/tempered glass in tabletops would have a huge impact on the industry.

“It would radically increase the cost, particularly the cost of thick glass, and would significantly reposition glass as far as the choices available,” said Carter. Like Lawrence, Carter pointed out that the cost to temper glass is vast compared to annealing glass.

“Small companies don’t typically have tempering ovens, and most of the large companies that temper don’t do custom work. This [a standard] could again push the whole industry offshore.” Carter continued, “It could devastate the small guys since the cost of custom tempering is outrageous.”

But what about the Consumer Reports 15,000-plus injury statistic? Carter said he has more than 20 years in the business and before owning his own company was responsible for a great deal of the furniture glass produced by Binswanger. “And I have yet to meet anyone injured by a tabletop,” he said.

And, according to Carter, there is a downside to tempered glass as well. “It is very edge sensitive to breaking,” he said. “So if you strike the edge the likelihood to break is much higher.”

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