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ARTICLE - Is Plastic A Safer Choice than Glass?
Bendable Plastic Styrene Safety Glass

HEALTH & SAFETY - Is Perspex Plastic Really a Safer Choice For Picture Frames than Glass?

Intuitively plastic safety glass must be the only choice for use with picture and photo frames on Health and Safety grounds as glass shatters and can cause injury – no contest.  However in practice there are circumstances where ordinary glass can surprisingly be a safer option.


The United Kingdom currently appears risk averse and obsessed with Health and Safety issues.  Indeed this can be taken to extremes, and has led to over zealous interpretation with the banning of such innocuous items and activities such as hanging baskets, pantomime shows throwing sweets to children, conker competitions.  When it comes to purchasing picture frames, many organisations particularly those linked with government demand the more expensive and environmentally unfriendly plastic safety glass over traditional glass.  This article examines whether plastic glass really is a safer option than traditional glass.

Datalite UK Ltd trading as Frames Online UK sells picture frames and these more often than not contain traditional glass.  In fact picture frames have utilized glass since recorded time began – well at least back to the Middle Ages anyway.  Good quality glass is perfectly transparent, relatively cheap, easily cleaned, tends not to deteriorate with age, and feels of good quality.   Traditional glass is ideal for use in picture frames, hence its prolific use.  Conversely plastic ‘safety glass in its various forms (Perspex, Styrene, Acrylic) can scratch easily, deteriorates under exposure to Ultra Violent (i.e. intense direct sunlight) over time, and though is perceived as a ‘cheaper’ product is actually more expensive to produce than traditional glass. 

Being a picture frame supplier an ever increasing incidence of customer request is for ‘plastic safety glass’ often quoted as due to ‘Health and Safety.  These requests tend to come from government organisations; reflecting the current obsession the United Kingdom appears to have with ‘Health and Safety’ issues.  This vogue appears to have its roots in the introduction of UK ‘No Win No Fee’ legal proceeding schemes instigated during the 1980s, and the proliferation of the Health and Safety Executive agency in the UK.  This has lead to a risk adverse culture, which seems to be primarily driven by a fear of litigation rather than altruistic safety concerns. 

However, even a matter such as the choice to use glass (horror visions of horrendous cut injuries) or plastic Safety Glass (The word safe sounds, well safe!) is not quite as straight forward from a safety point of view as one might imagine. 

Prior to the Falklands conflict in 1982  Royal Navy ships used an abundance of artificial materials.  These ranged from bulkhead coverings to nylon working dress.  A prime lesson learnt from this conflict was that many artificial materials are not good to have in the event of a fire; hence there was a reappraisal and dramatic reduction in the use of artificial materials onboard which exists to this day. 

Health and Safety demands a measured and sensible appraisal of risks.  Certainly in the UK there has been a proliferation of ridiculous stories revolving around numerous events and activities being banned due to ‘Health and Safety’.  These range from banning traditional games such as conkers & street football, decorative items like hanging baskets, and even bell ringing.  In fact much of this sort paranoia finds its routes in over zealous interpretation and/or fear of litigation.  The United Kingdom has a Health and Safety Executive (HSE), and judging by their website they adopt a far more measured and sensible approach than that often portrayed in tabloid journalism.  For example they target the obvious life threatening and serious health risks such as use of asbestos, and their motto smacks of common sense ‘safe lives not stop lives’.   The advice provide on their site appears a sound resource, and is commended as a first point of contact for UK based safety issues.  There is an interesting section on debunking the various ‘Health and Safety’ myths which have often unfairly been linked to the HSE. 

The safety issues concerning traditional glass concern the well known fact that glass can break on impact and produce shards that can cut.  This can be the stuff of horror films; a person jumping through an unopened glass window conjures up images of much gore and injury.  This is the obvious Health and Safety risk, and indeed for particularly vulnerable and obvious environments, such as prisons and school corridors having picture frames with glass, located in an area where they could be easily knocked and broken can be a significant risk. 

There is much that can be done to reduce breakage risk.  The first is to ensure the frame is firmly fixed to the wall, ideally screwed direct to wall using side mounting clips.  Indeed, if such mounting is used and frames are inaccessible this can be the safest overall option in many environments.  Incidentally, picture frame glass when broken tends to stay in the frame, even following a direct impact.  Clip borderless frames that utilise glass have a much greater risk of injury through stray glass shards, indeed Frames Online on one occasion refused to supply to one school large custom clip frames made of glass (rather than plastic) to be hung on a wire - due to the inherent and obvious (albeit not to the school in question) safety risks. 

Safety glass on first appraisal can appear to be a no contest viable option on safety grounds alone.  It looks like glass, and does not shatter like glass, with a negligible cut injury risk.  Indeed Safety Glass in its various forms (Perspex, Styrene, and Acrylic) has significant advantages especially for sending by post.  Nowadays the Royal Mail appears to see packages marked ‘Glass Fragile’ as a challenge, or perhaps some postal workers just like the sound of breaking glass.  Whatever the reason, postal packages often lack due care and diligence when in transit especially via Royal Mail and Parcel Force in the UK, and a significant amount of breakages can be damaging for a business’ bottom line.  Safety glass has a double advantage, it is lighter than glass and hence cheaper to send, and is not prone to breaking. 

As mentioned earlier safety glass can be prone to scratching and over time deterioration in direct sunlight.  From a Health and Safety perspective, in the event of a fire ‘safety glass’ can give off obnoxious deadly fumes, indeed as deaths from smoke inhalation is one of the most common causes in the event of a fire; this must be factored in on a risk assessment basis.  Generally buildings that minimise artificial materials present a safer environment in the event of a fire.  This needs to be measured against the risk of glass cut injury.  For frames located largely out of any obvious impact areas, a frame using a traditional glass and firmly mounted to the wall, provides a cheaper, safer, and aesthetically pleasing solution.  Safety glass, which despite is nomenclature is not entirely safe particularly in the event of a fire, but this risk may be outweighed if located in vulnerable environments/uses where cut injury may be prevalent. 

The question of whether or not plastic safety glass is a safer option than traditional glass is not quite as straightforward or obvious as initially appears.  Indeed ordinary glass in some circumstances can be a safer option than artificial glass, as well as being cheaper and a more environmentally friendly choice.  It all depends on the circumstances of use.

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About The Author
John D Henry BA BSc, Managing Director of  DATALITE UK LTD
Wholesale Supplier of quality photo and picture frames at
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