It’s Time to Talk about Self Protection

This year marks my 35th year in the glass industry and I must say that I feel pretty good for an old man. My back isn’t sore, my hands still work and I can still pull a cold knife. Many of my peers, unfortunately, can’t say the same. To what do I credit my relatively healthy career? Good luck to be sure, but safety precautions and technology play a bigger role.

This week’s post is about safety and self protection. When I started training I believed that I had to practice what I preached or I would be deemed a hypocrite. Sure, I have been busy enough that I forgot to put on my safety gloves and kept my “seeing” glasses on when I should have put on my safety glasses. I remembered more often than I forgot, however, and that has gone a long way in helping keep me fit to continue my career.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is for your protection not mine. I can remind you to wear it, but I can’t force you to. If you do not wear your equipment, I do not get hurt, you do. I am not the one getting stitches in my hand or a glass sliver out of my eyeball, you are. I’m not enduring the pain involved with straining my back or pulling a muscle, you are. The PPE for our industry is not a long list nor is it expensive or hard to get. It just needs to be obtained and most importantly worn.

The equipment most technicians need include:

Safety gloves:

—Gloves should be constructed of heavy leather or cut resistant fabric. The best I have found are the tight fitting mechanics’ gloves. They give you manual dexterity and protection. Add anti-vibration padding and you have the perfect gloves for an automotive glass technician.

Safety glasses:

—Lenses need to be impact resistant. They should have side shields. Glasses are to be worn at all times during the installation. They must meet ANSI 87.1 for safety glasses. 

Nitrile gloves:

—Nitrile gloves are recommended to resist the solvents and adhesives used in the glass industry. Latex gloves will keep your hands clean but do nothing to protect your hands from solvents and chemicals.

Safety shoes:

—Safety shoes or steel-toed shoes are recommended for use when handling or installing glass. This is one of the recommended safety items that seem to go by the wayside. Technicians would rather have good comfortable, good traction shoes rather than toe protection but I urge you to reconsider that line of thinking. It is not pleasant to drop a windshield on your toe.

Wrist & Forearm protectors:

—Wrist and forearm gauntlets are used when handling glass and when sharp tools are used. I highly recommend these for door glass installation. I have had dozens of minor cuts and abrasions throughout my career but only two that required stitches. One of the cuts that required stitches was not caused by glass but by the metal of an access hole in a door frame. Wrist and forearm gauntlets would have protected me from that injury.

Now, what about ergonomics when it comes to precautionary protection? Do you still use your head to push up the windshield to cut the bottom bead? Do you use a manual caulk gun versus a power gun? Do you set the glass by yourself? Do you wedge yourself between the “A” pillar and the door frame to reach the pinchweld? How low tech can you get? You may think that you cannot afford the high dollar tools that would free you from these actions, but how long can you go before your body determines that you’re done installing glass?

Using your head to push up on the windshield means that you’re pinching the disks in your vertebrae, thus causing lower back pain and a shorter career. Use a helper, leverage tools or different power tools to lessen the need for tensioning the windshield for cutting out.

A manual caulk gun does the job, but the constant use of your wrist and forearm muscles will cause Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and require painful surgery and a long recovery time. Obtain a power caulk gun to reduce repetitive motion that a manual gun will cause.

Setting the glass by yourself and wedging your body in unnatural positions contorts the body and puts excessive pressure on your back and shoulders. This gives you muscle aches and pains that can hinder a good night’s sleep and could require pain killers to make it tolerable. There are a number of setting tools with different price points that could help you in setting the glass comfortably and accurately. Also, use a solidly based platform to stand on instead of wedging yourself between the body and the door.

Use the tools and equipment that are available to you. Make a wish list of the items you need and prioritize it. Then when the good months happen or when you can convince the boss that these are good for his business, you can obtain these important safety items and begin to work more ergonomically and safely.