Commonly used in school and hospitals, critics say wired glass is only about half as strong as normal glass, though it does perform better in fires
TORONTO—Wired glass, commonly used in schools, hospitals and offices across Canada, will soon lose its safety designation due to the high risk of serious injuries when broken.
The Canadian General Standards Board is set to remove wired glass from its national building standards at the end of February, saying it isn’t safe “because it’s not impact resistant.”
“It can shatter when hit and cause lacerations,” Jacqeline Jodoin, senior director of the federal organization, told The Canadian Press.
The building standards are voluntary and “have no force of law,” she noted, but observers hope the removal of wired glass from the national guidelines will discourage its use.
For Tyler Dickie, the changes are long overdue.
In 2007, he was walking out of his Amherst, N.S., high school when he pushed open a wired-glass door and both of his arms crashed through. The jagged glass shredded his left arm, tearing his biceps and triceps muscles, cutting through nerves and severing an artery.
“The blood was unreal, it looked like a horror movie,” he said.
Students rushed to help stop the bleeding until paramedics arrived, he said. In the hospital, Dickie’s heart stopped beating and his breathing ceased—he was “vital signs absent” twice—as doctors scrambled to save his life, he said.
He survived, but his life was forever altered. He has regained about 80 per cent of the strength in his arm, but can’t play hockey, type on a keyboard and failed a physical when he tried to get into an underwater welding program, he said.
“That glass is a ticking time bomb, someone is going to die,” said Dickie, who in 2012 filed a lawsuit against the school board, the owner of the school and the manufacturer and installer of the school’s doors.
Doug Perovic, an engineering professor at the University of Toronto, has long pushed for action on wired glass in Canada.
“This is bad glass, weak glass, that has led to catastrophic and gruesome injuries,” he said.
In the United States, the International Building Code changed its standards in 2006 so wired glass wouldn’t be used in areas where people could come into contact with it.
“Wired glass is about half as strong as the same glass without wire—it’s terrible,” Perovic said. “It never passed the impact test requirements and that goes back to its initial introduction in the early 1990s.”
Wired safety glass initially came into prominence because it helped stop the spread of fire. During a fire, regular glass can break and explode due to the intense heat. Wired glass mitigated the spread of the flames because it wouldn’t fall apart easily, Perovic said.
“There was no other glass for fire-rated purposes and the board gave it an exemption that was supposed to last for a couple of years, and that just carried on to today,” he said.
Perovic believes the new standards that don’t include wired glass will have a trickle down effect on building codes across the country. The hope is for builders to stop using wired glass going forward, he said.
But he cautioned that the board didn’t provide guidance on what to do with the wired glass that “is everywhere in Canada.”
“The board didn’t really tackle it directly, they’re just saying it’s not a safety glass. So it’s not banned. Kids can still run into it at schools.”
Fortunately, there are existing cost-efficient solutions that don’t require replacing the panels outright, such as adding a thin adhesive film—made of a high-strength polymer—on one of the exterior surfaces of the glass to prevent people going through it, Perovic said.
Mike Smitiuch, who represents Dickie in his ongoing lawsuit, said he’s seen a rising number of cases of wired glass-related injuries.
“We have over a dozen cases on the go all across the country,” Smitiuch said. “This is a systemic problem. Although the standards will be changing, I think that school boards and other public bodies need to move quicker on this.”
In a statement of defence against Dickie’s lawsuit, the school board, the school’s owner and the manufacturer said Dickie “rushed towards an exit door and intentionally or recklessly slammed his hand into the glass panel of the door causing his arm to go through it.”
While it’s difficult to get a handle on the number of injuries caused by wired glass, the Ontario School Boards’ Insurance Exchange, a school board-owned, non-profit insurance program representing 78 school boards, provides some data.
A risk management advisory written by the exchange, and obtained by The Canadian Press, said there were 107 wired glass-related claims against its schools between 1987 and 2000 that cost more than $3 million to be paid out.
“Wired glass can cause horrible injuries,” the 2001 report said.
OSBIE did not respond to requests for comment, but told Global News last year it had incurred a cost of more than $5.8 million for 114 claims from wired-glass injuries between 2001 and 2015.
It recommends a number of measures to its member schools that include warning students of the dangers of wired glass, posting “do not push on glass” signs and avoiding running in hallways.