Drafting Service Files: Glass Fails are Funny but They Also Shed Light on an Important Issue

I’ll be the first to admit that watching someone walk straight into a glass door is pretty funny (check out the video below if you don’t believe me).

Glass Fail Compilation

But sometimes glass ‘fails’ can lead to major headaches for building owners and contractors. Take the case of Apple Park for instance. Apple employees started calling 911 after several people walked into glass dividers between workspaces. Some employees even ended up with some pretty serious injuries, including bleeding from the head and disorientation.

The problem arose because Apple ordered all post-it notes and warning signs to be removed from glass surfaces in their new $5B facility – despite warnings from the building inspector that occupants would not be able to tell where doors end and walls begin.

In the end, Apple put up large stickers on doors to comply with California’s Code of Regulations, which requires companies to protect “against the hazard of walking through glass by barriers or conspicuous durable markings.” After the quick fix, no more incidents occurred.

While this case – in which Apple employees at Apple HQ walked into glass doors while distracted by their Apple iPhones – is surely the most ironic case of glass fails, it’s certainly not the only case. Less publicized incidents happen often all over the U.S.

And California isn’t the only state with rules to protect distracted building occupants. Many states have strict guidelines for glass surfaces in their building codes, and contractors that fail to build up to code could be liable.

The reality is people frequently get hurt by walking into glass. And while it may be funny to watch it happen online, it’s no laughing matter when it happens in our buildings.

The good news is there are some relatively easy and cost-effective ways to stay out of trouble (and keep your building off YouTube).

How to Prevent Glass Fails

These days, many building designers and occupants are looking for as much clear glass as possible. It’s no wonder: clear glass structures look amazing, and natural light is great for productivity and overall occupant well-being. Plus, glass can also help control heating bills. But it’s important to be aware of the risks of large glass surfaces.

The best time to implement preventative measures is before the building is opened for use. If you’re a glazing contractor, you have an opportunity to offer solutions upfront (and add the additional service to your contract). If you face resistance, try explaining to the customer that these solutions are decorative, and can actually add to the appeal of the space.

There are a number of ways to comply with building codes. For example, you could subcontract the work to a company that sell films and offers installation services, or you could opt to use ‘distraction markers’ that can be easily applied by your glaziers. You could also go for glass that’s permanently etched by your glass manufacturer.

Option 1: Do it Yourself

Use ‘distraction markers’, which are basically decorative pieces of film or graphics on the glass at eye level wherever people are likely to walk. This is what Apple did to remedy their problem.

Distraction markers are a great ‘band-aid’ solution to prevent glass collisions and they can also help make your space a little more private without blocking too much natural light.

You can use distraction markers to add a unique look and feel to your space. Companies like Distraction Graphics offer DIY distraction markers that let you showcase your brand or unique style and, most importantly, get up to code.

Option 2: Hire a Contractor

This can be more expensive than going with DIY distraction markers, but it could be worth the extra peace of mind.

By hiring a sub-contractor to install high-quality film over your glass, you’re applying a solution that will last for the life of the building (or at least until any major renovations are done). Distraction markers work just as well, but they might be removed 5 or 10 years down the line if another tenant takes over the space.

Plus, window tints can help improve the energy efficiency of your building, so that could be a great selling feature for your project.

Option 3: Install Permanently Etched Glass

This is an even more complete solution than hiring a contractor to apply a film to existing glass surfaces. Of course, you’ll have to make this decision early on in the project.

Choosing etched glass over clear glass works best when privacy is an issue. If you want preserve the open concept feel of the space, then etched glass isn’t ideal. In that case, it’s better to go with a less-intrusive distraction marker that clearly indicates there’s a glass door or wall without blocking out too much light.

In the end, the best option for you depends on your building design, but also on where you’re building.

Make Sure You’re Up to Code in Your City/State

In many jurisdictions across the U.S., you could be in legal trouble if you fail to prevent glass fails.

I already mentioned California, but New York City has some of the strictest codes for glass doors and sidelights. It requires the use of distraction markers at least 4 inches in diameter on clear glass (regardless of the type of glazing) to minimize accidents. New Jersey has as similar code.

Many U.S. cities have code requirements for this type of work, but we continue to see buildings that aren’t up to code. There are no doubt countless buildings in the U.S. where serious accidents and financial penalties for failing to comply with building codes are very real possibilities.

And in places where building codes don’t yet mandate distraction markers, you can bet they will soon. With the growth in the use of cell phones, it’s more important than ever to ensure your glass doors and panels are safe for all building occupants.

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