Why Laminate Glass Became the Safe Choice for Balustrades

Balcony glass has long been identified as a key architectural feature, as long as it’s safe. Traditionally the use of Georgian wired glass offered this perceived safety and as technology in glass has improved so have the techniques for safety glass. Originally BS EN 6180 (now 20 years old) guidance focused around the use of framed balustrades with a glass infill panel as was typical. Such infill panels were usually constructed using a 10mm monolithic temper toughened glass.

In 2012 there was a tragic accident in Sheffield where a young child fell through a gap left by a smashed panel of monolithic glass in the roof terrace balustrade. Following the incident, the more forward-thinking companies in the industry started to move completely away from using monolithic glass and instead use toughened laminate glass.

As more companies started embracing laminate glass solutions and with more investment in lamination technology, the price started to fall. By 2010 laminate became cheaper than monolithic making it a ‘no-brainer’ given the safety benefits laminated glass offers, primarily:

1)    If a monolithic glass panel smashes, shards could fall from the balcony down to the ground. With a laminate glass, the laminate means the shards are still held to the adjacent panel of glass, as looked for under the CDM requirements.

2)    Laminate glass ensures that if a panel does smash, the integrity of the barrier is maintained rather than leaving a gap. This benefit was realised by the BSI in 2011 who revised BS EN 6180 to allow using laminated toughened glass without a structural handrail.

Is laminate glass a safety benefit or is it banned under the combustible cladding ban?

At present, it is allowed in a window scenario given that it is listed as an exemption. However, laminates used as a balustrade are not on the exemption list and are therefore assumed to be banned.

The MHCLG mandate is to improve the safety of buildings, however, it seems that the fire ban has become a one-eyed approach. Products like laminated glass are banned for ‘safety’ reasons but as a result, less-safe monolithic glass balustrades are being specified, increasing the likelihood of another tragedy.

The industry is, unfortunately, being pushed to less safe options under the banner of ‘safety’. As illogic as it seems at present a set of French doors on a high-rise building can use laminated glass, whilst the Juliet balcony just 40mm in front of the doors, are banned despite being the essential guarding.

Answer our questionnaire to add your opinion to the lobbying of the MHCLG.

To better understand the regulations surrounding combustible materials on building exteriors over 18M and how this affects balconies including laminate glass, book a fire CPD today.

This article was originally featured in Insight Magazine, subscribe for your free copy every quarter here.