New tools and methods help, and peer pressure is easing, but pain management remains complicated for installers
By Tara Taffera
It’s as smooth as butter.” That’s how David Packer, the 37-year old owner of 1st Class Auto Glass in Kasson, Minn., describes a windshield installation done using a setting tool. Things were much different when he started putting auto glass in at age 16.He grew up in the business alongside his dad Mike who worked at Abra.
“Back then glass guys were tough guys,” says Packer. “You would get up, go to work and see who can be the biggest and strongest.”
He says an element of that tough guy, or girl, role, still exists, but everyone is more health conscious and body conscious today.
“People in Facebook groups are criticizing those who aren’t doing it the safe way and that is good,” says Packer.
That move toward doing it correctly so installers can avoid injury is at odds with another industry trend—to install as many windshields as humanly possible in one day.
“At the same time people are getting more health conscious they are still pushing the number of windshields they can install per day and that will be even more awful in the end,” says Packer.
Doug Rasmussen is a partner at ZG3 Systems, a company that offers setting tools, as well as Z Glass, an auto glass repair and installation company with a specialization in RV glass. So he knows quite a bit about installing large windshields and its effect on the body. In fact, he got involved in the industry as a result of his medical background. He has experience in rehabilitation case management, for one, and worked with many injured workers in medical recovery. He was interested in how he could help auto glass companies make their jobs easier on their technician’s bodies.
“Depending on the employer and the resources they provide, there may be expectations for a certain number of jobs that have to be done in a day,” he says. “They have expectations for performance that physically wear down the employee over time. Many times there are physical and psychological stress due to this need to complete a certain number of jobs.”
Macho, Macho Men
Both men say an element of pride comes into play.
“I know very few auto glass techs who come to the end of their career without an injury that was never reported,” says Rasmussen. “People in the business tend to have higher than average physical capabilities and are very proud of what they can lift and do. But that results in long term injuries.”
“We don’t talk about the pain,” adds Packer. “It’s glass guy tough. Get up and get through it.”
When technicians go home at the end of a long day, how do they man-age the aches and pains?
“Some take medicine,” says Rasmussen. “Some gut their way through which often results in aggravating a beginning injury and escalating it into a more severe injury.”
For Packer, the drug store isn’t his go-to solution.
“I stay away from pain-dulling medications. Once you take them, the pain goes away and then you re-injure yourself,” he says. “I go all natural—I go to the chiropractor and get acupuncture. It works if you have a regimen.”
TJ Tirado, owner of Windshield Fitters in Houston, was at Auto Glass Week last year when he walked by the eMP10 LLC booth, a company that offers products like the eMP10, a portable, rechargeable, dual channel TENS and EMS unit that operates in nine different massage modes and 20 intensity levels.
“I tried this at last year’s event and went online and bought a similar product,” says Tirado.
Using setting tools can also make a big difference, and Tirado says he purchased a few. Packer says he uses the ProSet and his back as it once did.
“It makes it so much easier,” he says. “The old school days of hunching over the car is over … I don’t miss the days when I had to go set a Chevy Express windshield by myself.”
Packer also speaks highly of the Lil Buddy Pro and Rasmussen cred-its that company for pioneering some of this setting technology.
“Lil Buddy was one of the first devices that addressed the weight and leverage forces of managing a windshield,” he says. “Some of the cut-out tools that have been developed have significantly improved some of the risk factors.”
Packer says the tool companies in general have come a long way.
“I still have pain in my hands from the vibrating tools of the past,” he says. ‘There definitely is an after effect. We are now using wire-out tools and hooking drills up to them, and getting away from cold knives. It is nice to watch the industry undergo a transformation and make tools that are easier on the body.”
Training is Just as Vital as a Tool
It’s more than just using a setting tool, however. There are also some practices that can be put into place to mitigate injuries. Tirado, who operates three locations and has five technicians working for him, went through the Equalizer training.
“I randomly check in on my employees to make sure they are following the proper standards,” he says.
“Many companies—Mom and Pop ones particularly—are reluctant to invest in preventive strategies and materials that would reduce work injuries,” says Rasmussen. “It’s not just the tools–it’s the training. Technicians are put in work environments where they don’t understand ergonomics, proper lifting, and when to get assistance. How to properly lift is a significant part of that.”
Another big part, he says, is avoiding slips, trips and falls.
Suzanne Allan, owner of Allans Glass Company in Round Rock, Tex-as, says she works hard to keep her work area clean to prevent injuries.
“You can imagine two to three people trying to carry a windshield and stepping over ground clutter. You have to be preventative,” agrees Packer.
If you don’t, what happened to Packer on a snowy Minnesota day could happen to you. He was walking in from the outside carrying a wind-shield and his boots slipped, he fell and went through the windshield.
“If you are going down you have to get that piece of glass away from you,” he says. “I broke my hand on that fall.”
Even with that misstep, he says luckily he never had to file a workers compensation claim. He says the companies for which he worked, ABRA and City Auto Glass, made sure its employees were cared for.
“We were given paid time off and were told to home and relax, and they covered the doctor bill. They also made sure we were medically cleared. Thank God I was never hurt bad enough that I was not cleared.”
If that had happened, the company would have lost a valuable installer.
“If you lose someone to an injury you are not just losing a glass installer, you are losing a knowledge base,” says Rasmussen.
Allan admits it’s difficult to work in the glass industry, even when doing repairs, though she performs both repairs and replacements, the latter of which she recently started doing.
“If there is a crack in the middle of a windshield, I often have to use a ladder to get to it. I am short so it is definitely a challenge,” she says. “For repairs it mostly comes down to where it is placed. If it’s on the side I can reach it easily but whenever it’s in the middle, I have to stretch and use muscles I didn’t know existed … But it’s worth it.”
3 Main Areas of Windshield Replacement Injury
- Lower Back
5% recordable injuries per 100 workers per year.
50% of injuries were associated with musculoskeletal over exertion and cumulative trauma and another 25% from slips, trips, and falls
9 Risk Factors
- Awkward Postures
- Overhead Work
- Twisting and Carrying Loads
- Wrist Deviations
- Contact Stress
- Poor Shoulder and Wrist Posture
- Lifting Bulky Loads
- Hand-Arm Vibration
- Whole Body Vibration
Indirect Costs to Employers
Lost general production time
Key knowledge lost if an employee is unable to return
Time to hire and train technician to replace the injured employee
Costs of an Injury to an Employer
If you are an employer who thinks an injury to one of your employees doesn’t affect your bottom line think again. Doug Rasmussen, partner for ZG3 Systems and Z Glass, gives a real-world example of the costs. It involves a technician installing a single glass Class A motorcoach windshield. Following removal of the damaged windshield, four individuals began installation of the replacement. “The process involved overhead lifting, awkward posture, lifting a bulky load and some twisting,” says Rasmussen. “During the attempted course of the replacement, one technician incurred a work related sudden and painful hernia.”According to data obtained on OSHA’s website, on a national average, a work related hernia will incur approximately $21,000 in direct costs and approximately $24,000 in in-direct costs. Direct costs are those relating to medical care, wage re-placement, and legal costs relative to a work injury and for all but very large employers, covered by a workers’ compensation insurance policy. Indirect costs are all other impacting variables not covered by insurance, according to OSHA. “Using the OSHA estimator [found on its website] on the indirect costs of a work injury we can begin to see the significant impact work injury can have,” says Rasmussen. “At a target 10% profit margin, a company will need to generate $240,000 in new sales to cover the $24,000 loss. The company will need to generate an-other $240,000 in additional sales to return to the profit target of 10%. The total estimated potential impact of a work related hernia in indirect costs–$500,000.
Expert Handling Revealed
Technicians who can’t afford setting equipment or special tools, don’t have to settle for life-long pain and injuries. Gilbert Gutierrez, global education director at Equalizer Industries, has been providing training to installers for decades. AGRR talked to him about some tips installers can put into practice that will help ease their pain. He says even veterans come to the training and learn valuable advice they put into practice.
AGRR: Can you talk about proper lifting techniques and some of these pointers you go over?
Gutierrez: Many installers do a one-man set and need to prepare them-selves to lift the glass from the stand. I tell them to put the suction cups where they can be accessible and not hinder how they lift the windshield. When they lift the windshield they need to crouch down and use their legs to lift and hold it parallel to the sky. This ensures they are balancing the windshield as they walk toward the vehicle to set the glass. This eliminates a lot of that stress on the lower back. If the weight of the glass has changed tremendously—the glass is now a lot thinner which makes the windshield a lot lighter.
AGRR: Are people surprised at what they learn?
Gutierrez: They understand the mechanics of when you lift the glass and how you set it. When you keep it vertical it weighs differently than when you trans-form the movement over the windshield opening and you can feel the weight change. If you overextend yourself, it seems like it weighs three times as much.
When they get ready to set the glass, they have seconds to do it as the weight feels like it changes. I don’t care how strong they are, they won’t be able to hold that windshield. When you go from Point A to Point B, gravity takes place and the glass feels heavier.
Technicians say when they go back they start showing others the new way of doing things.
AGRR: What surprises them most?
Gutierrez: That it’s a lot easier, especially when they start using other things—for example, going from using no suction cups to using them. Some don’t use them because they don’t trust them, but what they don’t under-stand is a clean surface makes a difference. But it’s not the suction cup: it’s that they didn’t know to ensure a good adhesion. A lot of technicians don’t use suction cups but once they learn it’s just about keeping the surface clean, they change their ways.
TARA TAFFERA is the editorial director for AGRR magazine.
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