Capitol Hill Hears Discussion on Wired Glass

Wired glass was the topic under discussion on Capitol Hill yesterday, during a symposium on the use of wired glass in schools. The symposium was organized by Greg Abel, founder of the not-for-profit organization Advocates for Safe Glass, with support from U.S. Senator Gordon H. Smith, Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Congressman Peter DeFazio, and held in conjunction with Americas Glass Association and the Fire and Safety Glazing Council.

Senator Walker represents the first state in the United States to adopt International Code Council safety regulations limiting the use of wired glass in hazardous locations in schools, gymnasiums, etc. The regulations are intended to prevent injuries to children from breaking wired glass.

"This nation is in a new school building era … we will be able to ensure that schools of the future will not be using wired glass," said Walker

She noted that her next concern was addressing wired glass already in place in older school buildings. A bill has been proposed for the appropriation of funds for retrofitting glass in schools. Walker offered another possible solution for replacing wired glass.

"What I want is a pool of money that the [wired glass] manufacturers have to pay into," Walker said. "That's my goal, to at least have some kind of fund set up … so we can start retrofitting our schools."

She also advocated establishing independent third-party testing of wired glass and changing the National Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) code used in hospitals, which currently doesn't discriminate between injuries from glass and wired glass. The change would help to track those types of injuries.

Ellen Schmidt, MS, OTR, national outreach coordinator of the Child Safety Network, spoke in support of tracking injuries from wired glass. She noted that information on the occurrence of injuries from wired glass isn't widely available except as anecdotes.

"This is a significant issue that affects many children … but we're really not sure how many," Schmidt said.

She recommended that more schools work to form a reporting system for school-place injuries, although she added that many districts aren't aware of this problem.

"There's a lot of people who just don't know about it [wired glass injuries] and what they can do about it," she said.

The Ontario School Boards' Insurance Exchange (OSBIE), however, has set up a tracking system for school injuries, according to Teresa Drijber, claims manager for the not-for-profit organization. She explained that all schools in Ontario must file a report about injuries so that OSBIE can offer risk management solutions.

Drijber said that since 1987 OSBIE has tracked approximately 81 glass breakage incidents, and about 40 claims payments. She noted that some of those claims do end up going to trial.

Attorney Kenneth Lumb of Corboy and Demetrio has represented victims of wired glass injuries, with three such cases pending.

"The people who are putting [wired glass] in now that the codes have changed, it's almost like a strict liability case," said Lumb.

He added that the standard of care to which building professionals are held in court isn't just to do what another reasonable professional would in the same circumstances, but also to have the knowledge of what a reasonable professional should do. He said that with more laws being passed limiting the use of wired glass, building professionals could be held to those standards.

"The codes are not the be-all end-all in a civil case," Lumb said.

Dale Santee, AIA, CSI, a principal in the Architectural Studio, offered an architect's perspective on why designers specify wired glass in their projects.

"Why do we put glass in the buildings?" he asked. "For security purposes … monitoring."

He said that many of his clients request this form of "passive security" in hallways and stairwells, and that wired glass for some time was the only available option for these areas. He added that despite its drawbacks--he noted aesthetics and impact resistance, for instance-the low cost of wired glass compared to alternatives has kept it as a viable material for designers.

Leonard Brunette, president of Vetrotech Saint-Gobain, offered the assemblage some information on the alternatives to wired glass available. He explained that ceramic glass withstands both high temperatures and rapid cooling, but by itself is not a safety glazing material; window film must be added or it should be laminated. He also said that intumescent products are safety-rated and resist heat transfer.

"We're working now to create an educational program we can get to the code officials and the industry about the new products available," said Brunette.

He added, "The [glass] industry as a whole has heard these issues, and they're very concerned."

For more information on the wired glass symposium, see the November issue of USGlass magazine.

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