The Dangers of Shortcuts and Workarounds

By Mike Burk
December 4, 2016

This article is based on presentations that Burk has provided as chair of the Glass Safety Awareness Council for the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance. For more information about the organization or its safety activities, visit

Shortcuts and workarounds create dangerous conditions that risk the health and safety of employees. However, these shortcuts and workarounds are all too common in many glass plants.

The most common excuse I hear for taking an unsafe shortcut or using a dangerous workaround is, “I don’t have time to do it the right way.” But as John Wooden, the famous UCLA basketball coach often said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

This article looks at common shortcuts and workarounds in glass plants. Everyone should be on the lookout for these behaviors when they walk through a facility. And everyone on the floor should be charged with notifying others of any unsafe conditions.


A shortcut is any action to subvert a defined procedure in a rush to save time. Shortcuts become routine—so routine that in time they become a habit. Common shortcuts include:

  1. Leaving marked aisles
    The most recognized shortcut is to save a few steps or a little time by leaving the marked aisles and cutting through an active production area. Keep in mind that products are always in motion in a manufacturing area. Equipment starts and stops automatically without warning and without visible operators. Glass can be especially hazardous since it’s clear and difficult to see. What appears to be a clear path can suddenly become a blocked passage resulting in a severe injury.

    To avoid these dangers, remain in marked aisles and stop at intersections.
  2. Incorrect glass handling
    Often employees will try to save time by carrying, moving or sorting more than one lite of glass at a time. Finished float glass is separated by an interleaving powder that prevents the glass from staining or sticking to the adjacent lite. This powder causes the glass to be very slippery and difficult to grasp.

    To avoid breakages and injuries, be sure to use cut-resistant non-slip gloves and only handle one lite or one insulating glass unit at a time.
  3. Incorrect glass storage
    Glass must always be stored in a safe and secure location. Often workers place lites of glass in a temporary position while they wait for additional components or a matching lite. They will move lites to an unsecure location “just for now” while attempting to retrieve a lite deeper in the stack. Glass is very dense and gravity is always trying to make it fall.

    To avoid these storage issues, never store glass in a temporary location. Always return it to the proper cart or storage rack and secure as required.


When machinery or equipment doesn’t operate as designed, or is failing to meet production requirements, workers often look for alternate ways to meet product demands. Although done with good intent, these workarounds can cause death or serious injury. Additionally, these unauthorized engineering changes can also severely damage the equipment and void warranties.

“I don’t have time to wait for maintenance to come and fix this” is one of the most commonly heard justifications for workarounds. In most cases, though often undeserved, the maintenance crew gets the blame and the complaint continues. This is when the planning for a workaround often begins. Common workarounds include:

  1. Fixing jams with sticks and pokers
    Sticks and pokers are one of the first solutions that arise when product or components stop moving and get jammed in the assembly process. Any broomstick or long object is used to move the component along.

    Never use anything to unjam equipment. Instead, follow the company’s procedures to notify maintenance or shut down the equipment using correct lock-out and tag-out procedures before clearing the blockage.
  2. Disarming alarms
    When alarms or safety circuits continually actuate, frustrated workers will look for a method to defeat them. Alarms and safety circuit shut downs indicate that something is wrong. The machinery was designed with this protection to prevent injury and protect the equipment from damage. Never attempt to bypass or disable any alarm or safety circuit.
  3. Using duct tape for quick fixes
    Duct tape has become the most flexible workaround tool. It can be used to block photo eyes, hold down limit switches and hold loose components in position. Tape may appear to solve a problem at the moment, but in time it can loosen or break. Never use tape to repair or fix machinery.

    The maintenance department should be notified immediately of any equipment issues. The equipment should be shut down until it has been repaired or cleared by a trained maintenance technician. Operators must be trained not to attempt repairs, enter any areas with stored kinetic energy or attempt to open any electrical enclosures. As effective employees, they must understand lockout and tag-out procedures.

Burk is IG process specialist for GED Integrated Solutions and chair of the Glass Safety Awareness Council for the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance.