It’s Construction Safety Week, and perhaps no industry members understand the importance of exercising caution more than contract glaziers.
The annual event commenced Monday and runs through Friday, as more than 50 national and global construction firms joined together to raise awareness and promote education regarding industry-wide safety practices. It is held in conjunction with what the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and other federal agencies have set as the National Safety Stand-Down, focusing on fall prevention on the job.
“Ask anyone in construction and they will tell you that safety is the number one priority – it crosses competitive boundaries and ties us all together,” says Ross Myers, CEO of Allan Myers and Safety Week co-chair. “That is the reason we’ve chosen ‘Safety Ties’ as our theme this year, because the commitment to safety is strongest when it’s woven into the culture of our work and is a visible part of our everyday routines and processes. For workers on a job site, this starts with the individual. Every day, each person needs to take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of those around them.”
This is especially true in the glass and glazing sector. The risks involved with handling glass and curtainwall while working at various elevations requires very specific safety awareness, procedures and worker training.
The North American Contractor Certification (NACC) program, which evaluates and certifies contract glaziers on their organization, puts a big focus on safety. Program manager Jeff Dalaba says while there are the obvious risks of falls and lacerations, many other considerations need to be made for companies to protect their glazier crews.
“Working outside in hot and cold weather can create exposure issues, while standing for long periods of time or working in awkward positions can pose back and arm injuries,” he says. He adds that glass lites are often large and generally very heavy, requiring special manipulating equipment and skills.
John Scott of Graboyes Commercial Window Company says that when performing glass and window and glass replacement in occupied buildings, his company’s work practices go beyond typical construction site safety and OSHA requirements.
“We must conduct our work with minimal disruption and no risk to tenants, students, customers or guests,” he says. “Additionally, since our work spans the inside and outside of the building, we must protect pedestrians and those below.” He adds that fall protection is “paramount given the location and nature of our work in high-rise buildings.”
Other key considerations unique to the industry, he says, include protecting hands for potential glass breakage and protecting eyes from glass and metal shavings during cutting activities.
Another factor is the demolition and removal of a failed window or glass unit that has aged. “These materials are much more susceptible to breakage while removing, handling and transporting,” he says. “[Also], they may contain environmental contaminants such as lead paint, asbestos or PVCs.”
Dalaba adds that an important aspect of safety in the construction industry has been an increasing emphasis on training workers.
The City of Philadelphia, for example, now requires all construction site workers to carry a minimum OSHA 10 certification, effective in April of this year. It also added more stringent requirements for permitting and signage, much of which was triggered by a building collapse caused by a demolition company later cited for several safety violations.
This attention to training has taken root in the glazing industry.
John Kent of AMS, the certification body for NACC, says the program has had ongoing discussions within the industry “regarding the minimum acceptable level of safety training, OSHA 10 or OSHA 30 and for everyone or some percent of the workforce. Perhaps the next step of evolution for some is safety training and formal program reviews. … NACC is working to find that center of mass for the industry on many such issues, then to elevate those minimum acceptable standards. This takes years, but we are seeing progress.”
Overall, Dalaba says most architectural glass and metal contractors he’s dealt with have robust safety programs, plans and policies in place. “Most have dedicated safety officers or supervisors and items like safety audits and weekly tool box talks to reinforce training are common,” he says.
For the construction industry as a whole, participating companies of this week’s ‘Safety Ties’ event launched social media campaigns to promote Safety Week, and three major U.S. construction sites hosted ceremonial events during which the laces and a “ribbon tying” will be used as emblems of safety. Safety Week is sponsored by members of the Construction Industry Safety Initiative and the Incident and Injury Free Executive Forum.