Glass Canada

Features Fabrication Processing & productivity

Awareness of hazards can make automation safer.

February 7, 2014  By Colleen Cross

Moving glass has greater potential than stationary to injure or kill those handling it.

Moving glass has greater potential than stationary to injure or kill those handling it. Whether flat glass is being moved by forklift, suctioned lift, L-cart or automated system, it presents laceration, amputation and crushing hazards that may not be immediately apparent. Glass workers need to be educated on these hazards and taught procedures and habits that reduce the risk of injury on the job.

Dangers from automated equipment  
Dangers from automated equipment include pinch points, impacts from moving parts and electrocution. Simply making workers aware of what dangers a particular piece of equipment poses goes a long way toward making the workplace safer, safety experts say. 
Photo credit:  Agnora


A key factor in crush incidents is something called “stored energy,” which contributes to crush injuries.


“Once it starts to go, glass is hard to stop,” says Mike Burk, product sales specialist for Quanex Building Products of Ohio and chairman of the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance’s Glass Safety Awareness Council.

“Moving glass has momentum. The forces of gravity are against us,” says Burk. “Glass is silent and deadly.”

When materials such as glass or machinery are moving, especially in large amounts, their stored energy increases, he says.

“Stored” or “potential” energy is defined by the Safety Engineering Network as that “type of stored energy related to the sheer weight of things in the workplace, such as loaded pallets, heavy equipment, and bulk material.”

Overall, Burk says, he sees the most dangerous aspect of glass operations as handling and cutting large loads of glass. “You can wear all kinds of PPE to stop you from getting cut, but there’s not too much to stop you from being crushed.”

He says he doesn’t see as many deaths from lacerations as he used to “because people have gotten pretty good at protecting themselves from that.” However, the crushing incidents – people being crushed by large loads of lite – seem to be up based on anecdotal evidence.

We need to be observant and aware of the sheer weight of materials and the hazard this energy creates, says Burk, who regularly gives seminars on glass safety throughout North America but says he is “not a trained safety guy, just passionate about safety and tired of seeing people get hurt.”

For example, in October 2011, the Occupational Health and Safety Insider reported that two workers in Kingston, Ont., were unpacking a crate of sheets of tempered arena glass when they removed the front panels. One of the workers left while the other cut the straps securing the glass in the crate. The glass fell onto the worker, injuring his leg.

Lacerations and amputations
Workers are at greater risk of laceration and amputation injuries when dealing with the complexity of machine elements and types of mechanical motion found in automated systems. Such systems bring workers in contact with elastic potential energy (as found in cables and ropes) and mechanical or electric potential energy (as found in motors, control panels, conveyors and hydraulic systems).

According to an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “Amputations” fact sheet, “pinch points” occur “when two parts move together and at least one moves in a rotary or circular motion that gears, motors, belt drives and pulleys generate.” Pinch points present hazards, as do several other machine components present hazards: point of operation; power-transmission apparatuses such as flywheels, pulleys, belts, chains and gears; and other moving parts.

Mechanical motion such as rotating, reciprocating, transversing, cutting, punching, shearing and bending introduces special dangers within a plant.

Toni Volpato, a consultant with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services (WSPS), highlights another related issue facing fabricators and glaziers working with automated systems: ergonomics.

The use of robotics to eliminate manual material handling is helping in prevention of ergonomic injuries, says Volpato. Robotics has reduced ergonomic stresses and severe laceration injuries that have been associated with material handling in the production workforce. However, increased use of robotics and process automation introduces moving machinery and electrical power hazards. That means a whole new set of hazards and risk being transferred from production workers to maintenance workers.

How can we reduce injuries?
Burk says combatting these dangers requires awareness of these and other potential hazards, and solid procedures.

Safety regulations vary from province  
Safety regulations vary from province to province across Canada, but a general duty for employers to take reasonable steps to ensure safety is common everywhere. Organizations like the OGMA are trying to make it easier for companies to find the safety information they need.


It’s important workers know their risks and have clear instructions on procedures. In the above case of the crush injury, a lapse in training resulted not only in an injured worker but also in fines for the company. According to a government news release, “an MOL investigation found that the worker hadn’t been advised that it was a safety hazard to unpack glass without assistance. The company pleaded guilty to failing to acquaint the worker with this hazard and was fined $55,000.”

Burk says there are some obvious steps operators can take to heighten awareness of risk. For example, he wonders why we don’t see more safety signs in glass departments, a relatively simple practice that would provide an immediate visual warning. “ ‘Warning: moving glass,’ they might say. I’ve never seen one,” he says. “You see hard hats and you see safety glasses and things like that, but just a big old label that says ‘caution: moving glass’ – that says a lot.”

Lockout/tag out procedures: “Be diligent in lockout/tag out procedures,” he says. “Lock out or tag out every bit you are responsible for. This step is especially important with machinery.”

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety provides guidelines for lockout/tag out (LOTO) procedures on its website at

Stops and guards: Regular testing and maintenance of equipment is another crucial factor in plant safety. This includes inspection of emergency stops and conveyor belt guards.

Burk says some companies test emergency stops, or e-stops, daily; others test at the beginning of every shift. It’s important to be aware of what happens when you carry out an e-stop so that there are no surprises: most e-stops involve a hard, or immediate, stop, which brings with it another set of dangers in addition to their implications for productivity.

Burk stresses the importance of using proper guards and gates. The CSA Group standard, CAN/CSA-Z142-10: Code for Power Press Operation: Health, Safety, and Guarding Requirements, provides a good basis for evaluation of your company’s safeguarding procedures.

Controlling access: When transporting glass on carts, he says, safety means “avoiding tight spaces, uneven surfaces and surfaces not in good repair.” Burk urges management to control access to the glass department and other areas workers use, such as aisles and pathways, to keep people from walking into dangerous areas.

He cites a positive example of management taking the lead to control access at a plant he visits: when a truck occasionally blocks a major aisle, forcing workers to walk around it, the company has taken the step of requiring all movement to stop while the truck is in the way.

“Everything stops,” he says. “Nobody walks around the truck or through the truck.

“Does it impact their business? Yes, it does. They’ve either had to rearrange everything . . . or come up with this policy. There are things that have to wait 20 minutes, but that’s better for this company than having people walk around the truck.”

Although provinces and territories fall under individual legislation, the CSA Group sets complementary safety standards that are voluntary and represent best practices. CSA standards may be enforced by law when referenced in provincial, territorial or federal legislation or regulations. Volpato says, “Many regulations made under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act require compliance with standards published by the CSA Group.

She adds that a recent development should make it easier for companies to access CSA standards: “Ontario – together with the other provinces and territories – is currently working with the CSA Group to make it easier for employers and workers to comply with occupational health and safety requirements. Thanks to a pilot project funded in part by the government of Ontario, you can now read the relevant CSA standards before you buy. CSA standards are available online for many sectors, including industry, health care, mining, manufacturing, agriculture and construction.”

Looking from the outside in
Burk says his group of companies relies heavily on third-party inspection, believing that “a fresh pair of eyes” often sees what they cannot. When you do the same thing every day, he says, you just don’t see the potential hazards or weaknesses in a system. He says positive changes may be slow, but over time you see massive changes when you have someone helping who knows a lot about the concerns and regulations.

An example of outside evaluation has been happening in Ontario throughout 2013 and continues in 2014. Ontario Glass & Metal Association (OGMA) president Steven Ringler has been working with Volpato and Workplace Safety and Prevention Services offering half-day information sessions to OGMA members to discuss health and safety topics of interest to the group.

“The WSPS offers expertise on the topic and the members have the opportunity to share ideas and best practices with each other during the meetings. Topics of interest to date have been H&S policy development, accident investigation, workplace inspections, guarding of machinery and violence and harassment.”

WSPS advises on the critical areas of occupational hygiene, ergonomics, safeguarding and warehouse safety. Volpato says the organization also will work with Ringler and the OGMA on the development of a health and safety manual customized to the needs of each employer.

Mike Burk points out something else companies can do to improve safety immediately and at low cost. “Form a safety committee and get people from different departments on that committee.” Employees from shipping or “the other side of the wall” such as front office staff – even vendors – will be more likely to ask why you do something until they get at the root of the problem, he says.

Asking “the five whys” is a tenet of the kaizen philosophy. Kaizen, Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the best,” refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement of processes in manufacturing, engineering, and business management.

“Say you wanted to improve the production of a line. You would look at exactly how everything moves and do spaghetti diagrams that show how everything moves product-wise.”

New workers often get training from shadowing more senior workers, Burk says, which has both good and bad sides – it often teaches good habits. “But you’ve got a few out there who won’t wear PPE and say things like ‘I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I haven’t got caught yet.’ ”

Canadian plant safety resources
CSA group

Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada

Legislation that applies across Canada (not specific to glass industry)

Workplace Safety Prevention Services
1-877-494-WSPS, ext. 977, or 905-614-1400

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
1-800-668-4284 or 905-572-2981

Print this page


Stories continue below