A Look at the Aftermath of 2011’s Spate
of Broken Balcony Glass
by Megan Headley
Since the summer 2011, when buildings in Toronto rained
broken glass and opened a discussion on safely fabricating and installing
glass railings (see October 2011 USGlass, page 32), the city has investigated
the source of the breakages and how to prevent similar such occurrences.
As Bernard Ennis, P. E., director of policy and professional affairs for
Professional Engineers Ontario in Toronto, explains to USGlass, “The City
of Toronto has completed its study of the cause of the falling glass.
Four engineering firms investigated the problem and a fifth performed
a peer review of their work. All agreed that the cause was spontaneous
breakage due to nickel sulphide inclusions.”
The report related to broken railings in three condos operated by Lanterra
Developments, as well as Daniel Corp.’s Festival Tower condominium located
above the TIFF Bell Lightbox. According to Bruce Hawkins, a press representative
for the city, there is no information in the report regarding the manufacturer
of the glass.
According to Ennis, the report writers “noted that this type of breakage
occurs in all tempered glass installations and that it was the manner
in which the glass was used in balcony installations that created the
public safety problem. Large spandrel pieces of glass that extend past
the balcony on buildings close to roads and sidewalks resulted in a greater
frequency of breakage (due to larger volumes of glass) and danger to the
public since the breaking glass has nowhere to go except down onto pedestrians
and traffic,” he says.
With this knowledge, the Toronto City Council adopted several recommendations
from its Planning and Growth Management Committee regarding glass balcony
guard safety on November 30. Among the recommendations was the requirement
that the City Council direct Ann Borooah, its chief building official/executive
director of Toronto Building, a division of the City of Toronto responsible
for enforcing the Ontario Building Code, to advise the Canadian Commission
on Building and Fire Codes and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing
of the results of the city’s review of the use of glass panels in balcony
guards and request that they consider an emergency amendment to the Ontario
Building Code to better address concerns for public safety when glass
paneled balconies may break.
"Toronto’s chief building official
would be remiss in not defining a minimum training standard and certification
for the architectural glass and metal technician."
Ontario Painting Contractors Association
The Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes referred
comments to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The Ministry
issued a statement on its progress to USGlass, noting:
“Our government takes public safety seriously, and the Ontario Building
Code exists to protect their safety. Above all else, we want our solutions
to put safety first in all municipalities around Ontario.
“The Ministry has established an expert advisory panel, including staff
from the City of Toronto and other stakeholder groups, including engineers,
architects, developers and enforcement officials, to advise on possible
changes to building code requirements for balcony glass panels.”
Proper Training Needed
The Toronto City Council also directed Toronto Building to advise the
Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD), which bills
itself as the voice of the land development, home building and professional
renovation industry in the greater Toronto area; Tarion, a private corporation
established to protect the rights of new home buyers and regulate new
home builders; the Ontario Association of Architects; and Professional
Engineers Ontario of the results of the city’s analysis of glass panel
safety in balcony guards. The Council also encouraged these organizations
to update their practices and professional training regarding the use
of glass panels in balcony guards.
Ennis replied on behalf of the Professional Engineers Ontario that “at
this point the issue has been turned over to the Ministry of Municipal
Affairs.” He adds, “Professional bodies will update guidelines and training
after the Ministry has decided how to proceed.”
"Toronto’s chief building official
would be remiss in not defining a minimum training standard and certification
for the architectural glass and metal technician."
For its part, BILD directs visitors to its website to the Toronto-based
Ontario Industrial and Finishing Skills Centre (OIFSC), which provides
apprenticeship training for glaziers.
“We do the apprenticeship training for the architectural glass and metal
technician, formerly known as the glazier program,” says Steve Laird,
glazing and health and safety instructor for the OIFSC. As he explains,
“The Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities oversees
the curriculum, training standards as well as the certificate of qualifications
exam at the end of their training. This is a Red Seal Trade, which requires
certification upon completion of 8,000 hours of in-field and in-school
training. We run three levels of training at 240 hours per level. It takes
approximately four years to complete the apprenticeship.”
The in-school program consists of about four weeks of classroom and four
weeks in shop per session. “We cover things like inclusions, expansion
and contraction properties of different material, required material clearances,
as well as a great deal of other topics,” Laird says.
Other training organizations agree that, whatever the outcome of the Ministry’s
research, training standards should be mandatory.
“Toronto’s chief building official would be remiss in not defining a minimum
training standard and certification for the architectural glass and metal
technician,” comments Andrew Sefton, executive director of the Ontario
Painting Contractors Association. “It is the technical competency of the
installer that is critical to achieve project success.”
Laird agrees, noting that other trades are required licensure in the province.
“Currently the trade is voluntary; it is not required to obtain certification
in Canada to work in the trade. We are trying to change this and make
it mandatory to obtain a license to work in the trade. As with plumbers
and electricians, you must have a license, not a certificate, to practice,”
Laird offers some additional insight into the installation of the glass
in the projects under scrutiny, and how glazier training, higher standards
of installation and general contractors’ willingness to work with well-trained
subcontractors could help.
“I have been told a lot of the condo work is piece work; the more you
do the more you get paid,” he says. “If the glass is too small (not enough
bite), will it fall out with temperature changes? Possibly. If it’s too
big, will expansion cause breakage? Possibly. If it’s not installed [properly],
will the company get paid? No. If the installation company closes, [is
it] still responsible? Only if you can find [the company] and prove [it]
More Research Needed
The Toronto City Council also directed that several organizations—Industry
Canada, the Canadian Glass Association, the Safety Glazing Certification
Council and the Glass Association of North America (GANA)—be advised of
the results of the city’s analysis of glass panel safety in balcony guards,
and encouraged to communicate and coordinate a comprehensive review of
compliance safety standards for the “manufacturing of non-metallic product
used to produce architectural glazing materials.”
GANA’s Laminating and Tempering Divisions and its Glazing Industry Code
Committee (GICC) currently are looking at updating and creating resources
to address the use of glass in balcony railing systems.
According to Urmilla Jokhu-Sowell, GANA technical director, the association’s
Tempering Division currently is working on two glass informational bulletins
(GIB): Guidelines for the Fabrication of Heat-Treated Architectural Flat
Glass and Recommended Applications for Heat-Treated Glass.
“The task group working on the Guidelines for the Fabrication of Heat-Treated
Architectural Flat Glass informational bulletin have discussed including
sections on personal protection equipment, general product environment,
process flow, cutting and washing. The second GIB, Recommended Applications
for Heat-Treated Glass, will discuss the different types of heat-treated
glass, reasons for heat-treating and guidelines for typical architectural
glazing applications. Both of these task groups will meet at the GANA
Annual Conference to continue their work,” Jokhu-Sowell says.
The association’s Laminated Division is reviewing its Use of Laminated
Glass in Glass Railing Systems GIB to make any necessary updates with
current standards and codes.
In addition, the GICC has submitted a proposal to the International Building
Code (IBC) for its upcoming code cycle changes for Chapter 24. “The proposal
states that glass used in handrails, guardrails or a guard section shall
be laminated glass constructed of fully tempered glass or heat strengthened
glass and shall comply with Category II of CPSC 16 CFR Part 1201 or Class
A of ANSI Z97.1,” Jokhu-Sowell says. “Glazing in railing in-fill panels
shall be of an approved safety glazing material that conforms to the provisions
of Section 2406.1.1 of the IBC. There is one exception: Single tempered
glass complying with Category II of CPSC 16 CFR Part 1201 or Class A of
ANSI Z97.1 may be used in handrails and guardrails if there is no walking
surface beneath them or the walking surface is permanently protected from
the risk of falling glass.”
"Large spandrel pieces
of glass that extend past the balcony on buildings close to roads
and sidewalks resulted in a greater frequency of breakage (due to
larger volumes of glass) and danger to the public ..."
Professional Engineers Ontario
Finally, the Toronto City Council requested the chief building official/executive
director of Toronto Building to re-evaluate wind tunnel standards and
criteria and report to the Planning and Growth Management Committee on
changes to improve modeling and application standards. At press time,
Borooah had not responded to USGlass’ requests for comment on the status
of this item.
“I don’t recall hearing any of the glass was blown out, but any update
of standards is good. If it’s determined by engineers they need to be
changed, change them,” Laird comments. He adds, “I don’t think the current
standards or codes cover what is happening now so, yes, they need to be
Laird offered another suggestion on the advisements issued by the City
“Consideration of an amendment is like having a meeting to discuss having
a meeting. Just do it. Don’t encourage updated practices—demand it,” he
Megan Headley is the special projects editor for
USGlass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The W’s Replacement in Progress
The Toronto glass railing breakage incidents, which happened city-wide,
sparked a great deal of debate in the consumer press, while a high-profile
project further south helped ignite the discussion about proper glass
railing fabrication and installation.
Following the breakage of five glass railings last June, the W Hotel in
Austin, Texas, has begun repair work on its condominiums. The property
soon will start replacing all existing balcony and stair railings in the
condo balconies with approximately 1,000 lites laminated with DuPont’s
SentryGlas Plus interlayer. Hotel owner Stratus Properties Inc. has opted
to use glass in a new railing design, although a representative of Stratus
confirmed to USGlass that the glass would use a different hardware design
than the previous railing.
The original railing was designed, fabricated and installed by U.S. Railing
in Tampa, Fla., a subsidiary of Custom Components (now a subsidiary of
Grey Mountain Partners, see February 2012 USGlass, page 10).
“Custom Components Co. has continued to provide design and technical assistance
to its customer, [general contractor] Austin Building Co.,” David Janosz,
Custom Components’ marketing manager, tells USGlass. “We have recently
released for production new stainless steel component parts that will
be used to modify the railing framework. The design of the system will
change from a front located point mount glass panel to a channel captured
glass located at the centerline of the railing system,” he says.
Janosz says that the new railing will make use of 9/16-inch laminated
glass. Product began arriving onsite in early February.
“The fabrication and installation will be a joint effort among employees
of Austin Building Co., Custom Components Co., Austin Outdoor Studio and
Austin Glass and Mirror. Work is underway, with completion set for late
April,” Janosz concludes.
Representatives of Stratus Properties refused to confirm to USGlass a
point published in a January 20 article in Austin’s local American-Statesman;
in the article, Stratus CEO Beau Armstrong commented that the contractors,
not Stratus, will pay for the $2.5 million project.
According to Janosz, “The cost burden and assignment of such is still
being reviewed between all parties involved, insurance policies, etc.
There still has been no conclusive evidence as to the reason for the glass
breakage. Right now Austin Building Co. will be paying all costs associated
with this rework.”
Is There More Falling Glass Today?
One question that remains is whether the year ahead will bring a fresh
batch of reports of falling glass.
“I believe there is a lot more glass being used in balcony installations
now than ever before, especially with condos as it is a selling point.
Everyone likes the unobstructed view as opposed to the steel panels or
bars as in the past. I believe Toronto is [leading] new condo construction
in North America,” says Steve Laird, glazing and health and safety instructor
for the Toronto-based Ontario Industrial and Finishing Skills Centre (OIFSC).
“As more glass is installed it only makes sense more will break. For so
many pieces to break in so few buildings over such a short timeframe to
me is unusual.”
Laird points out that the best way to prevent future such problems is
to reveal the causes of broken glass in these instances, so that others
can learn from these mistakes.
“I have read a lot of articles on the breakage in Toronto and other cities.
Most times the cause is not made public,” he points out. “Is the glass
from North America? If so, it will have met standards and gone through
testing. If not …?”
Lyle Hill, managing director of Keytech North America, offers another
opinion on the matter. “Glass is not breaking more often than in the past,”
he suggests, “but the type of glass being installed is inclined to fall
out (and off) of buildings at a higher rate than in the past.”
As Hill explains, “In the past (and by the past I am going back a few
decades), the typical high-rise glass installation used annealed glass.
When that glass would break, it would tend to stay in the opening for
a period of time. In an occupied building, it would either get boarded
up or replaced in pretty short order. I can tell you firsthand that throughout
the ’70s and ’80s, I regularly saw glass with cracks, breaks and even
BB (and occasionally bullet) holes that did not get replaced for extended
periods of time.
“These pieces of glass rarely fell out of buildings,” Hill says. He adds,
“But when they did, sometimes there were some very bad consequences. As
safety regulations and codes came into being, and higher-performance coated
glass began to be used, the glass being installed in high-rise buildings
was commonly heat-treated (strengthened or tempered). So when a piece
of tempered gets broken or shot by a BB or bullet, it does not stay in
the opening until a board-up or replacement glazing team arrives. No …
it is going to fall out—rain down, if you will—into what we hope is relatively
harmless, yet annoying and sometimes frightening, little pieces.
“Other than the sometimes improperly installed or undersized piece of
glass that may ‘fall from the sky’ so to speak, I am convinced that more
glass is not breaking; it just rains on us more often when it does,” Hill
If city officials in Toronto and Austin have their way, any such instance
of broken glass will be rarer in the future.
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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.