As I was compiling industry news this morning, I noticed at least four articles on falls through skylights. Skylights in this country go through rigorous testing, and meet and exceed the minimum AAMA and ASTM guidelines before hitting the market. So, why so many accidents?
Product engineering of skylights demands that proper fall prevention glazing materials be used in the skylights to prevent people from falling through the skylights when they decide to walk on them, says Ron Palombo, president, Acurlite Structural Skylights, Berwick, Pa.
The skylight accidents happening today are mainly from skylights that are either old or simply outdated, Palombo says. Skylights built in the late '50s through the '60s utilized glazing materials such as wired glass in an attempt to prevent fallout in case the glass broke. In most cases, annealed wired glass was used. "Many of the accidents you read about today are of skylights that were not designed to carry an active load or that [suffered a] catastrophic collapse due to inadequate engineering and/or poor installation practices," he says. "It is very rare that a report of someone falling through a modern engineered monolithic or insulated glass type skylight occurs today."
Product testing does not focus on the ability of the skylight to prevent fall through but focuses on long-term structural integrity and performance, Palombo says. "Our building code is very clear as to what loading requirements the skylight must be capable of withstanding," he says. "Practically all building codes require that the skylight take a 250-pound concentrated load at any framing member that produces the most stress. Further, the code is now requiring that a glazing analysis be completed with the structural analysis to assure the glass is capable of taking the specified loads and transferring them back to their supporting members without breakage or failure," he says.
To avoid accidents, Palombo says:
- Factory pre-assembling or unitizing of the main skylight components/frame definitely assures that no short cuts will be taken in the field during erection.
- Transporting assembled components on a dedicated carrier is the only way to assure the assembled frames and material will arrive safely and intact. "Manufacturing the material, packaging it and sending it via a common carrier is suicidal."
- Having factory trained erectors who are dedicated to erecting the structures correctly is monumental to the long-term stability, integrity and performance of the skylight unit. "You can cover all your bases, have a state-of-the-art skylight system with state-of-the-art engineering and manufacturing, but if you don't have the right erectors putting it together ... what are you left with?"
What are your thoughts on the issue?
Sahely Mukerji is senior editor of Glass Magazine. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.