More transparency needed

The rise in popularity of glass surface treatment products is allowing some chemicals to enter the market without the correct scrutiny, which is posing a risk to the health of glass workers and consumers, and creating unfair market conditions. This is the conclusion of Stephen and Karen Byers, founders of Ritec, who have spent several years researching the technologies. Glass Times editor Nathan Bushell visited their site in Enfield to find out more.

The market for post-processed glass treatment is a large – and growing – one. This is reflected in the fact that the market is literally flooded with brands of liquid-applied treatments that promise to clean and protect glass products. There are more than 175 brands worldwide, including more than 50 in the UK alone, but only five basic types of technology.

A competitive market is a healthy one, especially if regulated. However, a lack of standards has led to a proliferation of bad practice, with some companies even breaking the law in a bid to get their products to market.

Ritec, which pioneered the market 35 years ago – and winning numerous awards in the process – has spent more than four years shining a light on this area of glass processing in a bid to level the playing field and not, Ritec’s managing director Stephen Byers insists, to attack suppliers.

In the centre of Ritec’s offices in Enfield is a room about 20ft long by about 10ft wide. Along one wall is a shelf containing three to four dozen lever arch files stuffed with the results of years of research into the post processing glass treatment market.

In another area of the office more folders are stacked high, beside which Ritec’s Stephen said: “As far as we are aware, this is the only place where all this information is stored in a single library.”

The Byers have an encyclopaedic knowledge of glass treatment and protection, which some mistake for competition knocking, an accusation that Stephen defends vehemently.

“We welcome honest competition,” he argued, “because it helps to grow a market that we created.”

It is a sentiment supported by his wife, Karen Byers. “We’d rather people didn’t treat their glass at all than apply products that are potentially lethal.”

And this is the crux of the matter. For the last seven years, Stephen and Karen have been drawing closer attention to a company in Germany that has been supplying the international market with an alcohol-based water-repellent coating, which had been previously banned by the German government but has resurfaced under a different brand name, and marketed by other companies under a plethora of new brand names.

“They now sell it to anyone without any regard to how it is sold or marketed, including statements that are false, and often it doesn’t even ship with a safety data sheet for people to make up their own decisions about how to apply it, or what precautions to take,” Stephen said.

Stephen and Karen’s concerns ultimately boil down to one critical point: that there is no overarching standard or regulation governing the sale and use of glass treatment solutions. This, they say, has resulted in unsafe working conditions, risks of invalidated liability insurance, and deceptive trade practices – among other issues.

“Our main concern has always been – and will always be – the danger posed to health with some of the products available on the market today,” Stephen said. “However, some people – including the Health and Safety Executive – just weren’t interested with what we were saying, so we’ve extended our investigations to cover other areas that we think people should take notice of.”

Stephen said that the result was positive, and even led to the GGF publishing three articles on its website to highlight some of the concerns.

The GGF’s involvement is critical, since a comprehensive data sheet on the matter could be a stepping stone to a standard with more clout.

In fact, the GGF did publish a data sheet in November 2013 – Surface Modification of Glass for Ease of Maintenance, Liquid Applied Glass Surface Treatments – which set out certain guidelines and industry best practice. This GGF data sheet is considered as the first step towards an international industry standard.

However, Stephen and Karen have distilled their concerns to eight legal requirements, which suppliers and users of alcohol-based, water-repellent coatings should meet, otherwise they (and their customers) risk breaking the law.

Those requirements are:

  • Health and safety regulations.
  • Workers’ right to know.
  • Disclosure of material risks to insurers according to liability insurance laws.
  • Substantiation of marketing claims.
  • Truth in advertising.
  • Fair competition – no deceptive trade practices.
  • Fair competition – not passing off one product for another.
  • Environmental laws.

All the above requirements come with third party verification, which underpins Stephen’s insistence that this is not an individual campaign to knock the competition.

“We are really not interested in attacking honest suppliers,” Stephen said. “We simply want a level playing field.

“In the absence of a standard to govern the safe supply and use of glass surface treatments, I believe some companies are flouting their legal responsibilities.”

Glass Times has agreed to explore these concerns in more detail, and will publish a series of articles over the course of the year to examine each point carefully.