In the news not too long ago, there was a spate of stories on shower doors shattering for “no apparent reason”, with the worst case seeing a young boy taken to hospital from hundreds of cuts all over his body.
Usually when we think of dangers in bathrooms, we consider things like slipping on water or poisoning from chemicals in bottles – we don’t usually consider our shower screen and door.
However, the seamless nature of glass shower doors and enclosures is only skin-deep and far from perfect; in fact, they may be dangerous and shatter, seemingly without warning. Sometimes they do so when no one is even in the room (which is known as a spontaneous blow).
Fortunately, Australian federal codes require that glass shower doors be made of tempered safety glass. This means that when shattering happens, the glass breaks into many small pieces rather than large jagged pieces.
While these smaller pieces are definitely less dangerous than non-tempered glass, lacerations can still occur. In addition, injury may be caused by falling shower hardware. In fact, there are a number of Australian Standards that govern these areas and a comprehensive list can be found on the Australian Glass & Glazing Association website – see under Technical – Glass Standards.
It’s some comfort knowing that if a shower door does shatter, you probably will not be seriously injured but the question remains, what causes shower doors to all but explode without warning?
According to an ABC News article, “It turns out that their greatest strength – safety – is also their greatest weakness. When glass is heated in the tempering process, its tensile strength is altered. While it becomes much stronger and resistant to direct impact, it becomes much more susceptible to a side impact. As a result, tempered glass dropped on its edge will readily shatter.”
This shatter-inducing side impact may be the result of a variety of things including the door being incorrectly installed, stoppers or fasteners being damaged, improper cleaning, or misuse by the owner. In addition, small imperfections in the glass can cause the shower door to shatter hours or days later without warning and without anyone even being around.
Does this mean you should skip on glass shower doors? Not at all.
Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:
Use a professional
Having your glass shower door or screen professionally installed will probably cost more than a DIY job. However, a professional installation will give you piece of mind (and potentially a warranty) that the work has been done to the highest possible standard.
Inspect at home
While a shattering glass shower door can appear to happen for no reason at all, regular inspections can help you uncover any potential issues before disaster strikes. For example ensure:
• Any moving panels are securely attached.
• Any hardware is secure and tight.
• Rubber stoppers or bumpers are in place and not worn down.
• Glass is not chipped or cracked.
Always use your glass shower door for its intended purpose. For example, do not use the towel bar on the door as a safety bar for getting up and down. In addition, do not slam the door or use it roughly.
It is easy to point the finger at imported glass, and there is certainly glass coming into Australia that does not comply with Australian Standards. This does not mean that all imported glass does not comply. In real terms there are many glass manufacturers who produce high quality materials that meet Australian Standards. Pragmatically there will always be a handful of manufacturers who cut corners, however the onus is on the Australian Glass Importer to ensure compliance. Whether the glass is manufactured locally or overseas it must meet the relevant Australian Standards, AS2208 and AS4666 in the first instance.
The correct selection of glass takes into account the span, size, location and application of the glass, with careful considerations around wind loadings, safety and human impact risks. The incorrect glass selection is dangerous and can lead to serious injury.
In real terms, glass is a product that if not treated with respect can be dangerous. There are several important factors in the supply chain that must be maintained to ensure a safe home. Although the appeal of the cheap price at the local hardware store may seem appealing at first, is it really worth the risk?
For more information about shower screen safety, please contact the expert contributor.