Door and Window Manufacturer, Glass Expos, USGlass

Thing One and Thing Two

The big news this week probably wasn’t all that big in the grand scheme of things, but it opened up old wounds and debates about safety glazing and the law. And it has the potential to change our codes again, so, hey, wait a minute, maybe this is one of those little things that is going to balloon into a way bigger other thing.

I am referring of course to the lawsuit filed by the 83-year-old Long Island woman against Apple, the computer behemoth, when she walked into a very clear glass wall at the Apple store in Manhasset, N.Y.

Now, at first glance, you might say, “well, she’s 83 and things like this happen to golden-agers like her.” That might well be true, but have you been to an Apple store lately? I have gotten to visit a number of them and, I’ll tell you that in general, all the customers are either extremely young or extremely old. I get such a kick out of watching the older generation getting hooked up with the iPhones and iPads. My own mother (who would kill me if I said her age, but put a 17 in front of the two numbers that make up her age and you have the year our nation was founded) is quite a wiz but then again, she was a New York State algebra champion in high school …

Sorry, I digress. The point is that companies as first-rate as Apple know the demographics of their store customers so they must know they include 83-year-olds. And kids. And teens who are texting and a variety of busy people.

Apple’s stores often feature expansive uses of glass, including this one in Manhattan, N.Y.

Having all glass is not a problem, but not being able to tell it’s all glass is. Our industry has been through a variation of this debate in the early 1980s. Long before the laws or codes addressed this, items like sliding glass doors and window walls were not always made up of safety glazing. And people walked through them and got injured; some even died. So in the late 1970s, the government stepped in and, through the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), safety glazing regulations were born. I have it embedded in my brain: 16CFR1201 was the regulation number.

The regulations required safety glazing in doors and sidelites. As  a result, injuries from impact with said doors and sidelites were reduced greatly. But the glass industry always resented being regulated by the government in this way. The government, in turn, had little ability to police or enforce the regulations. A number of years later, a compromise was reached that got CPSC out of the safety glazing business and moved the development and enforcement of safety glazing to the building codes, where many thought they had belonged all along.

The codes (back then there were three groups, now they have all merged into one) today include not just doors, but other hazardous locations. So injuries from impacting and going through glass have been reduced, for sure, but now we have some new problems.

There’s been a great increase in the number of floor-to-ceiling glass walls used both in commercial and residential applications. They are designed to look like they are not there and that’s the problem. People who walk into them don’t go through them; they bounce off them. The world also is very different now than it was when the safety glazing laws were first promulgated. The newer “clear, clear” glasses have all but eliminated any green or other tint making it more difficult to discern open space from glass.

Well, that’s silly you say, only an idiot or someone with really bad eyesight would do that. Though you could argue I am both on occasion, I still notice glass. That’s why I stopped and carefully checked out an opening at the Texas de Brasil restaurant in Memphis, Tenn., last September. I looked for channels or anything that looked like it might be glass. Sure that it was instead an opening to the outdoors, I proceeded to walk into the wall of glass,  nose and chest first. Sure I bounced off it, but it hurt. Actually, my pride hurt a whole lot more than my nose as the irony of the situation was not lost on me. But then again, no one would know, right?

Anyway, the case makes us look again at what really constitutes a hazardous location. Including stickers or other warnings on such walls would totally negate the look that designers like Apple seek. But I sure hope it doesn’t take some little 4-year-old boinging off a glass wall and into a deep coma to get us all to look at this issue. We have found time and time again (think glass furniture, think balconies) that avoiding a topic never, ever makes it go away and many times it makes it worse.

On to Some Other Things

It’s the Spring travel season at our offices and special projects editor Megan Headley, working for Door & Window Manufacturer (DWM) Magazine, just got back from a week-long trip visiting a variety of European window manufacturers of all different sizes and specialties. She also visited the famed window show, Fensterbau, in Nuremberg, Germany. Megan’s blog gives you an idea of what she saw, and for more information see the May issue of DWM magazine. You can subscribe here.

Next week, our crew will be off to San Antonio for Glass TEXpo and Fenestration Day 2012, being held at the El Tropicano Hotel in San Antonio. I hope you will come over and join us for two days of great education, exhibition and networking.

Please have a great week this week. Happy Passover and Happy Easter to all celebrating!