Complex Glass Installation Calls for Safety Values

By Travis Rains

The glass industry continues to see the emergence of heavy glass installed on
façades made unique through its structural composition and height. The design of these structures brings no shortage of safety considerations. Industry professionals highlight the benefits of not only training and safety practices, but also communication between all involved parties.

Peter Marino is the health and safety manager at Elicc Americas  orporation, headquartered in San Diego County, Calif. He says the old-fashioned, manual methods for lifting glass are being phased out as glass becomes heavier and installed at greater heights. Increasingly, motorized methods such as vacuum lifters and mechanical glass manipulators are being used.

“But in order to push that piece of equipment, people need to be trained on the proper use,” Marino says. “You have to have a protocol on how to use it because there is testing involved. If that fails, you could have a major disaster because you’re up in the air.”

Proper Training

Marino says the safe operation of emerging machinery and technology in the industry requires safety to be a priority and a value. He says that mindset and the tools and benefits that coincide begin at the top, focusing on training the right individuals.

“The best training, from my experience, starts with the leader of your training program,” Marino says. “That’s the key decision in training for a company: who is leading your training efforts, and are they a trainer. If they’re a trainer, are they able to train others like supervisors and foreperons? You still have to train workers because of regulation, so a lot
of funds are spent on that and not focused on the supervisor who can deliver the best training, which is on the spot.”

Shannon Crawford, Quality, Health, Safety and Environment Management (QHSE) manager with Permasteelisa North America Corp. in Minnesota, says his company begins addressing safety at the onset of a project through the operations design department. The department looks at projects individually, as Crawford notes, safety considerations for installation are “not one size fits all.”

“We go through and analyze each of the different scopes of work, and from there, we understand how we install it and the equipment required—counterbalance lifting beams, vacuum lifters,” Crawford says. “After that, we work on how to get workers to that location, and then what safety equipment and training we need to provide.”

Crawford also recommends going beyond Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements. With respect to falls, Permasteelisa ties off 15 feet from a live edge as opposed to the six feet required by the administration when a fall occurs at a site. That’s because the average height of a curtainwall unit is 15 feet, and Permasteelisa wants those units within exclusion zones.

“So anyone or anything that goes within that exclusion zone is tied off, hence our 15-foot rule,” Crawford says. “We have a 100% tool tether policy. If equipment or tools are found to not be tied off, it’s immediate terms for dismissal. Most of these buildings are now towering in cityscapes, so it’s also the public’s protection we take to the highest level.”

Complexity Considerations

Mike Willey, operations manager at New Hudson Façades LLC in Chicago, agrees. He says project-specific equipment is needed as façades grow in height and complexity. From specialized unit manipulators to vacuum cups, the safe and proper use of such equipment is of paramount importance.

“Anytime workers are exposed to leading-edge work, especially at heights, additional care and precautions need to be considered. Typically, the higher you build in a dense city environment, the more wind tunnel forces create more sustained wind and gusts. Having situational awareness of the environment is critical. Specific training for the equipment (both unique and common) and pre-task planning are required. This is imperative to ensure that the potential hazards are communicated, and the proper training and equipment are in use to execute the work safely.”

In fact, his company just completed a project that involved large-sized glass in Chicago.

“Special permits were required to place equipment on the site above the underground parking structure and specialized 12-cup vacuum lifting frame had to be procured from Germany (as there was nothing large enough that we found available stateside),” Willey says. Marino says perimeter protection becomes increasingly important as the height of a structure increases.

Investing in the Future

All three professionals agree that training constitutes a solid investment.

“The more effective spokes you have, the smoother the wheel,” Marino says. “That means less accidents, interruptions and delays. It’s a big issue when companies are forced to do it by regulatory requirements. But some see the benefits and expand it.”

“We train our employees on many types of equipment for leading-edge safety, hoisting and handling materials, and we start identifying these unique areas that may be beyond our standard work during the preconstruction process,” Willey says. “We utilize this time to discuss potential design alternatives with the architect or building owners … You have to understand the geometry, size, site logistics and constraints of the project to properly plan equipment needs and design for the safe execution of the work.”

Permasteelisa has expanded its training by giving employees a real-world look at the job’s potential dangers and safety considerations before they set foot on-site.

“We are even looking into training so they can basically view the condition and understand what’s going to be required of them without any risk using virtual reality and augmented reality technologies,” Crawford says. “People say you learn on the job, but we don’t want that. We want them to know what they’re doing before they get there, so anything that can be resolved before they get there can be. We’re looking to understand any risk before
they are exposed to it.”

Increased communication between all parties at the site and on the project also helps with the understanding and mitigation of risk. Crawford says architects, owners and general contractors must have a good understanding of installation methodologies and how structures can be executed prior to “going crazy with pencils and the design.”

“It’s difficult to reverse engineer,” Crawford says. “I think if the façade contractor is brought into the conversation as early as possible to help design the building and get the architectural intent, and also the constructability, that’s most important to having a safe installation.”

A Closer Look: Safety Training Through Virtual Reality

Many industry companies are turning to tools and resources such as virtual and augmented reality for safety training and more. Take a look inside the digital edition of USGlass magazine to see what some companies are doing.

Travis Rains is a contributing writer for USGlass magazine. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.