Fired Up: Why collaboration is key to life safety

There are a lot of people pointing fingers over who is liable for the devastating Grenfell Tower fire tragedy.

The public says Arconic Inc., the maker of Reynobond, which is used on the tower, is at fault. Arconic says blame lies with the specification team. “We sold our products with the expectation that they would be used in compliance with the various and different local building codes and regulations,” said the company in a statement. The specification team could now very well say inadequate U.K. building codes and regulations are at fault. Code officials might then point to the National Fire Protection Association or testing agencies like Underwriters Laboratories.

While it’s easy to follow suit and point fingers, we’d be better served to learn what we can from the Grenfell Tower tragedy. No one wants to see this scenario replicated in the glazing industry. People rely on building industry professionals to create safe, long-lasting buildings, and the glazing industry plays a key role in this process.

One of the first things we need to address is collaboration. 

Technology is helping on this front, but our industry still faces a fragmented approach to design.

  • Safety requirements, deflection limitations and insulating requirements, to name a few, vary nationally, regionally and sometimes even locally. 
  • Buildings are also growing increasingly complex. This means more parties are involved in the design and specification process.

Early and frequent collaboration between the trades is now crucial to ensure safety requirements and project complexities are well understood and properly addressed.

For example, while BIM systems and modelling software have come a long way in the last decade, it’s still important to work with the design team to ensure the selected materials not only achieve the look the architect is after, but deliver on the safety front. This is particularly true since the installation of safety glazing materials can differ from standard applications.

  • Will the glazing system require more technical support or onsite custom work?
  • Will it need additional testing?
  • Are the expectations realistic?

By joining conversations early during the design phase, we can provide quick answers and aid in the safety and long-term outcome of buildings.

We also need to take ahold of the responsibility that comes with being glass experts. Architects rely on us for advice. It’s not our job to create a spec, but if we see a problem, we need to alert the design team about suitable alternatives. They simply may not be aware of all the options.

Regardless of where you fit within the supply chain, it’s impossible to put a value on human lives. This includes the assessment of design benefits versus cost when deciding whether to deviate from the specification. The cheapest option may end up being the most expensive down the road. Look for any special requirements, limitations or exclusions, and be sure to vet manufacturer claims. Safety is a small price to pay when creating buildings that protect the lives of others. 

David Vermeulen is the national sales manager for Technical Glass Products, a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, and other specialty architectural glazing. TGP works closely with architects, designers and other building professionals, providing them with the state-of-the-art products, service and support to maximize design aesthetics and safety in commercial and institutional buildings around the world. Contact him at 800/426-0279.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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