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Posted on 28th April 2017

While we’re dedicated to enhancing the aesthetics of buildings with our systems here at Delta Balustrades, we always ensure their purpose as edge protection is front of mind with specifiers and end users.

That’s why it’s important that our customers understand any risks associated with specification decisions – no matter how small – so that they can make informed choices that suit the needs of their project.

One such minor risk is the possibility that toughened safety glass might shatter post installation.

While this glass is highly resistant to impact and will safely shatter into small pieces if it does break, all safety glass does carry a small but inherent risk of shattering as a result of the toughening process. This is because the molecular structure changes under heat treatment and, post installation, the effort of some of these molecules to regain their original shape – most commonly nickel inclusions – puts the glass under stress. In very rare circumstances, this can cause it to spontaneously shatter.

Whilst this is alarming, statistically it only affects one in every 13,000kg of toughened safety glass produced, and the risk typically begins around one or two years after production and peaks at four to five years post-installation. The risk is extremely small and the shattered fragments of glass are unlikely to cause injury but an incident of this kind will cause an interruption in edge protection for the area of the building affected, which must be considered.

It’s important to understand, however, that one shattered panel does not imply a risk that further panels will shatter and therefore the rest of the installation is just as safe. Indeed, a significantly higher risk of shattering is present if clamp lugs are used instead of bolt through lugs as this can lead to the potential for a panel to slip, causing the edge of the panel – where the toughened glass is weakest – to come into contact with another surface. If a breakage has been traced to this as the cause, then the whole balustrade installation should be checked as the issue is likely to repeat on other panels.

Another common cause of shattering is associated with the removal of panels for maintenance. To minimise this risk, the panel should be removed and re-installed by the original contractor to ensure that it is handled correctly and there is no direct contact between the glass and the fixings, which could cause stress on the glass.

Overall, the risk of spontaneous toughened glass infill panels shattering is extremely small; by working with a BSI Kitemarked specialist to ensure the installation is BS 6180 compliant, specifiers and occupiers can manage these risk factors and benefit from balustrades that are both safe and attractive.