The glass industry has taken a serious approach to workplace safety in recent years, but there is still plenty of progress to be made.
GED Solutions’ Mike Burk, who chairs the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance’s glass safety awareness program, recently led an American Architectural Manufacturers Association webinar on the topic.
Burk said it’s common for complacency to set in among people who have been in the industry for a while.
“If you think back to the days you started your first job somewhere, whether it be in a glass plant, or anywhere where there was lot of noise, loud banging, and things like that, you paid attention to it,” he said. “If you saw glass sticking out somewhere you’d say, ‘that looks dangerous.’ But after a while you get used to it. You get used to hearing glass falling, and you don’t even think twice about it.”
He said this mentality carries over to personal protective equipment (PPE), citing a recent plant trip during which he saw a woman loading large lites of glass on a cutting table with no PPE. “We can’t be complacent when we’re handling glass,” he said.
To address these issues, in 2011, IGMA established the safety awareness committee to promote best practices in the industry. It meets twice a year and looks at incidents, as well as the circumstances around those incidents, as learning experiences for industry members.
He said that while the glass industry is “one of the safest industries around,” workplace safety continues to be a big concern in the workforce. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 4,679 people died at work in the U.S. in 2014, many involving transportation incidents. In the glass industry, from a categorical standpoint, most injuries are a result of contact with objects and equipment or exposure to harmful substances.
Critical Close Calls
Burk said it is very important that companies take their “near misses” seriously and use them as a learning experience.
“You need to look at every near miss that happens in your plant and find out what happened, why it happened and what you can do to prevent it from happening again,” he said. Burk added that in these circumstances, employees should be assured that they won’t be punished, as that may make them afraid to report accidents. “It’s all done to prevent this from happening again,” he said.
No Easy Road
Managers in the industry need to ensure their employees aren’t taking shortcuts and “workarounds,” Burk said. He stressed that unconventional and unsafe practices must be identified and eliminated.
“If you’re walking around the plant and see things like sticks and pokers, people working around these things, ask, ‘What’s wrong with this process?” he said. “If you find this stuff in the working area, remove it, and find out why they’re using the device. They can get pretty creative when they don’t to want shut down production.”
He added that companies should “empower your employees so they don’t do things that are unsafe,” and that workers shouldn’t feel obligated to listen to a superior and do something they feel is unsafe for fear of getting fired.
Glass companies should ensure they’re using the “latest and greatest in PPE,” Burk said. He encourages safety committee members to bring to meetings anything new they’ve learned in PPE.
Burk said it’s critical to provide instruction to employees in “language that they understand” and to be clear on the purpose/capabilities of each piece of PPE. “Stress the fact that it’s not ‘cut-proof,’ but that it’s ‘cut-resistant,’—things like that,” he said.
Additionally, the weight of glass can’t be underestimated. “You can’t just guess,” Burk said. “It may be a triple unit, it may be laminated. It may be thicker than you would’ve guessed.”
Companies need to foster a safety-conscious mentality. “Many of our workers, especially younger ones, think they’re invincible and don’t want to use protection,” he said.
Burk said he’s seen facilities in which workers have written on a wall or column “how much money you can get with a lost finger or lost arm.”
“Attitude is really important,” he added. “It’s not funny, it’s not a badge of honor, to be cut.”