SINGAPORE - With Chinese New Year just around the corner, lovers of steamboats or hotpots planning to enjoy a warm meal on glass tables at home might want to take some precautions.
Following a tempered glass table shattering on Sunday (Jan 19) during a steamboat meal in which several people were hurt, experts warned that using steamboat or hotpot equipment directly on glass tables is not safe.
They recommended consumers to use thermal insulators underneath the hotpot equipment while making sure that glass surfaces do not overheat, even as they noted that imperfections in the glass overlooked during manufacturing could also make them more likely to shatter.
On Monday, Facebook user Stephanie Chu said a dinner with friends was ruined after her home's glass table shattered 30 minutes into their steamboat meal.
She wrote that some of her guests had "cuts bigger than the size of an eye" as a result, and that she was taken to hospital for second degree burns.
Speaking to The Straits Times on Tuesday, Ms Chu, 28, said the accident happened in a "split-second". She and her husband had placed the hotpot equipment directly on the table, as they were not warned against doing so by furniture retailer Comfort Design.
The couple bought the table from the retailer in June last year and, excluding the latest case, have hosted at least three other hotpot meals using the same table since.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force said the accident led to one person being taken to Ng Teng Fong Hospital General Hospital at about 7.50pm on Sunday.
One possible reason for the tempered glass table shattering is that glass is a poor conductor of heat, said associate professor Dong Zhili from Nanyang Technological University's School of Materials Science and Engineering.
"The surface in contact with the hotpot (could have been) heated to higher temperatures than the internal (parts) of the glass...causing stress (and) the glass to crack," he said.
Micro-cracks that could already be in or on the surface of the glass would also have led to it cracking under less pressure, he added. "It is recommended to use some thermal insulators underneath the hotpot, and to make sure the glass surface is not that hot."
Retailer Comfort Design does not believe that the accident was caused by its glass table, and said that the table shattered "as it was not used within its intended scope of use".
It said tempered glass is considered safe because it is designed to break into "granular chunks instead of sharp pieces which may cause cuts", and said the cuts suffered by Ms Chu's friends were likely caused by broken cutlery.
Even so, Ms Grace Shen, sales and marketing director at Comfort Design, said the company is "empathetic" of the situation faced by the couple and their friends, and would like to "assist them during this time of inconvenience".
"Our company did discuss compensation with Mr Low (Stephanie's husband) on Monday... However, the sum could not be agreed upon," said Ms Shen.
The incident was the first time Comfort Design faced glass shattering issues with regard to hotpot equipment in its 40 years of experience, she added.
But Mr Gary Lee, the business development manager of Singapore Safety Glass, a glass manufacturer, said it is highly unlikely that the glass broke due to thermal stress, as glass can withstand high heat.
"Normally, tempered glass can withstand (a temperature of ) up to 290 deg C," he told The New Paper on Tuesday.
He added that glass has been known to shatter due to spontaneous breakage.
"Spontaneous breakage can happen due to many reasons; some of the common ones are bad quality glass with impurities such as nickel sulphide in it, other common (reasons) are chips or bad edge on glass," said Mr Lee.
There have been other instances of residents fazed by shattering or cracking tempered glass that are not linked to hot objects being in contact with the glass.
Ms Veron Tan, a 39-year-old housewife, said the glass panel of her Ikea cabinet, which she bought three years ago, started cracking for no apparent reason last Tuesday.
In the incident, reported on citizen journalism site Stomp, the tempered glass panel of the cabinet cracked in numerous places just as she was returning from lunch at about 2.45pm that day.
Pieces of glass began falling onto the ground when she heard a sound "like a charger exploding or heavy items being dropped," she told The Straits Times.
"It is very unlucky to have broken glass in the house during the Chinese New Year period. To this day, I still do not know why it cracked," she said, adding that she refused Ikea's proposal to gift her a new glass cabinet as she did not want the same problem to recur.
"It is lucky that I don't have a child and my dog is at my parents' house," she added.
Furniture retailer Ikea said it understood that the situation was "alarming", and said the glass could have been compromised by "nicks and scratches" sustained anytime from assembly to transportation to regular use. The retailer will be reporting the incident to its product developers.
"Our customer relations manager has invited the customer to come to our store for a personal meeting to see how we can improve," Ikea added.
Associate Professor Dong said that if micro-cracks had been somehow sustained, such as during the table's manufacture, "the strength of the glass can be dramatically decreased".
Tempered glass is about four times stronger than untreated glass as it is strengthened through heat. Spontaneous shattering occurs only in tempered glass, experts have said previously, but such cases are uncommon.
Mr Loy York Jiun, executive director of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) told ST that from 2017 to 2019, Case received at least four consumer complaints on tempered glass doors and tables cracking or shattering.
In one of the cases, a consumer reported that his tempered glass door shattered after his son lightly bumped into it.
Another consumer discovered cracks in the tempered glass top of her newly purchased coffee table.
In the two cases, Case helped to negotiate with the businesses for a replacement of the defective glass door and coffee table, or reach an amicable settlement between the parties involved.
Case advised consumers who are buying doors or furniture with tempered glass to check with retailers on how to use them safely.
Consumers should ensure that the glass surfaces do not overheat and should avoid placing heavy weights on top of them.
Upon delivery, consumers should also inspect the tempered glass furniture for signs of cracks. If cracks are found, they should ask for a replacement.
All receipts and invoices should be kept, should the need for a replacement or a refund be required.
Consumers can approach Case with unresolved disputes by calling 6100-0315 or visiting the Case website at www.case.org.sg