From time to time we have been called upon to investigate personal injuries due to glass breakage. These types of accidents can vary from minor to major injuries including fatalities.
There are various causes for such incidents including people walking into and through glass walls and doors, shattering of glass due to direct strikes by blunt objects, defective glass, failure of glass systems such as shower doors falling off their tracks, and sometimes plain old bad luck.
Regardless of the cause there are two distinct differences between the incidents, those that involve untempered glass and those that involve tempered glass.
Without going too deeply into the technical aspects of glass manufacturing the differences between tempered and untempered glass are stark and significant.
When untempered glass breaks it does so in chunks typically referred to as shards. Often the shards are broken into triangle shapes resembling knifes. Depending on the cause of the glass breakage the shards can impel, cut, or both any part of a soft tissue, human or animal.
Tempered glass when broken is designed to shatter into very small pieces of glass. They too can cause injury but are less likely to become life threatening.
There are circumstances when even tempered glass becomes dangerous. One such occasion is when glass panes become dislodged from their frames in low and high rise buildings. The glass becomes airborne and transforms into a flying missile. Obviously in such a case it makes no difference whether the glass is tempered or not.
As of the 1961 Uniform Building Code untempered glass was in wide and legal use. Starting with the 1964 Uniform Building Code we see where mandatory use of tempted glass [and other safety glazing] first becomes law under Section 5406 as follows:
Glass lights subject to impact hazards and in the following locations shall comply with Table No. 54-D:
1. Glass doors and wall panels of bathtub and shower enclosures. For Plastics, see Section 1711 (e).
2. Where bottom of glass light is within eighteen inches (18”) of floor or walking surface.
3. Glass lights of glass panel doors.
By the time this article was written in December of 2018, the codes and regulations governing the installation of glass become more strict. Under the 2015 International Building Code, which is the cornerstone of most building codes in the United States, Sections 2406.4, 2407, 2408, and 2409 require safety glazing, with minimal exceptions, in all hazardous locations including doors, windows, glass guard railings, wet surfaces, areas adjacent to stairways and ramps, fire department access panels, glazing in athletic facilities, and glazing in walkways, elevator hoist ways, and elevator cars.
We do not anticipate any reductions in the current building codes and may see even more stringent requirements if future environmental and safety concerns dictate the need to provide even more protection.
The author has investigated scores of incidents relating to glazing injuries and has qualified in court to testify as an expert in this field.