Living with Glass

On May 4th Adam Sky, a well known DJ, died after falling through a glass door and severing an artery in his arm. We don’t know the circumstances of this tragic incident but it does raise important questions for us all particularly those many people who own or stay in properties with full pane glass doors and/or windows and there are thousands of such properties all across South East Asia.

Probably most of us have, at some time in our lives, walked into a closed glass door or window not realising there was glass there. Occasionally the glass breaks, standard glass, usually 5 or 6mm thick, can break fairly easily with the weight of a body thrown against it.

When glass breaks the pieces that fall out are dangerous enough but more dangerous are the jagged pieces left along the bottom of the frame that we can fall onto. Less obvious but even more dangerous are the jagged pieces along the top of the frame that fall down onto us. The French, when they designed the guillotine, found that setting the lower edge of the blade at an angle rather than on the horizontal improved its ability to cut through things. Similarly, angular shards of glass falling onto us can be very effective at slicing through flesh.

French doors with large panes of ordinary glass are accidents waiting to happen.

But are all glass windows and doors dangerous? No not at all, most of the hotels we stay in are licensed and regulated and they operate to high safety standards and the glass used in exposed areas is usually “tempered” sometimes known as “toughened” glass. Glass is “tempered” by controlling the rate of cooling as it is being made, this puts stress into the glass making it stronger and more thermally resistant than normal glass. It also makes it break into granular chunks, rather than into large “shards.”

Note that if you want tempered glass it has to be ordered to exactly the right size from the glass manufacturer, it cannot be cut to size by glass merchants.

For safety reasons private villas should also be using tempered glass in exposed areas especially for shower screens and doors. Unfortunately, lack of knowledge or the desire to save money means that in many cases, ordinary glass is often used.

How can we tell if glass is tempered? Tempered glass always has a logo or some sort of marking engraved in the glass usually on a corner. Check your car side and rear windows (not your windscreen) they are tempered glass and you will find markings etched into the corners.


So what if you have plain glass in your doors? There are three things you can do to improve safety:

  1. Best solution – Replace the glass with tempered glass. This will be expensive and may require the frame to be modified to take thicker glass.
  2. Good solution – Apply a sheet of shatter film to the glass. This is a tough clear film that strengthens the glass and, if it breaks, holds the broken pieces together, it stops the glass from flying around or falling out of the frame onto you. It also improves security. Shatter film is fairly expensive.
  3. Poor solution – Apply some frosted glass film to make the glass visible to reduce the risk of people walking into it. You don’t have to cover all the glass, perhaps a couple of bars across the middle or even a logo. Frosted glass logos are often applied to the glass doors of banks, government offices and the like just to let you know there is glass there.

There is another solution, you can install “muntins”, also known as “glazing bars”, into your windows and doors. You see them everywhere, dividers that form a grid system breaking up large glass panes into smaller panes known as “lites”. Muntins make the glass visible, they prevent people from falling them through and have the additional advantage of improved building security.

Glass in general can be dangerous and it is a really good idea to avoid glass shelves, especially in bathrooms.

This whole question does raise other important issues, however. We live in a world where online apps, such as Airbnb, allow people to rent out their villa or apartment on a short term basis. These service networks have become numerous so quickly that government regulation has not been able to keep up. As a result, many private villas are not licensed and operate “below the radar,” often they do not comply with the regulations, safety requirements or insurances that apply to licensed premises such as hotels.

So, if you are renting out your property you have a duty of care to your clients, it is a good idea to make sure your property is inspected for safety and that you have public liability insurance.

If you are going to stay in a private villa, it is a good idea to make sure the premises are checked for safety and that you are insured.

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Copyright © 2019 Phil Wilson

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