There are nearly 1 million violent incidents each year in the UK where the victim believed the offender to be under the influence of alcohol, absorbing a significant amount of police time and an estimated £2.7bn in NHS funding for alcohol-related harm, including assault injuries.
The use of glassware in alcohol-related violence is a particular concern. Glasses and bottles used as weapons can intimidate victims, bar staff or bystanders and cause serious injuries.
The Design Out Crime project is developing safer alternatives to traditional glasses by engaging industry, trade and consumers in creating solutions. After consulting the experts on the problem (the victims, publicans, materials specialists, emergency services and drinks brand owners) the Design and Technology Alliance Against Crime has appointed a team of specialist designers at agency Design Bridge to prototype options for a safer pint glass. This booklet shares all the research and insights they have worked with so you can understand the complex issues around glassings and alcohol related violence in the UK.
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Adolescents and alcohol
Most young people do not drink excessively or come to any harm through drinking, but there is a significant minority who do and this is a big concern.
Government has recognised the need for action on this issue, with the launch of the National Alcohol Strategy and the Youth Alcohol Action Plan. The effects of young people drinking are felt across society. They are more likely to become victims of crime or engage in unsafe sexual behaviour. Their school work suffers, as do their relationships with family and friends. Local communities have to deal with antisocial behaviour and crime, and society as a whole faces huge bills for health and policing as professionals deal with the fallout from problematic youth drinking, including thousands of alcohol-related hospital admissions each year for under-18s.
Much of the violence in licensed premises happens at flashpoints, when people have been drinking and something is said or done that makes them see red and react violently on the spur of the moment.
We are still serving a mind-altering substance in a potential weapon. Marjorie Golding mother of glassing assault victim and founder of the POP Campaign
The pubs and bars where they have been drinking are filled with dangerous implements that can readily become weapons. The glasses and bottles that are integral to the drinking environment are easy to grab hold of and they can inflict serious injuries.
Attacks where a glass or bottle is used as a weapon are called glassings. In glassing incidents the perpetrator either thrusts a glass directly at a person’s face or body, or across it in a slapping-style motion. A bottle’s design means it lends itself to being used as a blunt object to club someone because people can hold the bottle’s neck and use the body to hit out. Another common glassing approach is to throw the bottle or glass so it becomes an exploding projectile.
Glassings can potentially occur in any public drinking environment. There are age trends but they match trends for violent crime and for timings and levels of drinking in public.
Some people can be so drunk they don’t even realise a glass is in their hand. Male bar worker
It is difficult to pinpoint a definitive statistic for the number of glassing assaults, as the majority go unreported, making police records under-representative of the true scale of the problem. Hospital admissions offer a closer representation, but this too is incomplete as victims may not accurately report the cause of the injury, and many decide the injury is not significant enough to go to a hospital in the first place.
While glassing incidents may have some things in common, such as crowding in the pub, rivalry, self-defence, sexual jealousies, revenge and mistaken identity, they are instigated by, and happen to, people of many different ages, of both sexes and in places that aren’t renowned for violence.
Glass as a blunt weapon can cause significant damage. As a sharp weapon the potential for damage is hugely increased, and a very high ratio of glasses and bottles do smash into sharp pieces on impact.
Accidental injury is also a concern and accounts for a large percentage of glass injuries. There is obvious potential for injury from falling glass in multi-level venues, and from breakages. Also, there is a significant number of accidental injuries to staff. A survey of bar workers in 1994 showed that 40% had sustained accidental glass-related injuries (mostly while stacking and washing), and one third of them needed treatment in A&E.
The time and the place
The majority of glassing assaults happen when people are in or around bars and clubs, and they increase proportionately with the number of people (and the quantities of alcohol they drink).
The problem environment is typically one where so-called vertical drinking happens. This means large pubs such as the ‘super-pubs’ found in most cities, which can hold around 2,000 people, or nightclubs where there is more potential for violence to occur at flashpoints.
The use of toughened glass to cut the number of injuries has become a much-debated topic among people from drinkers, licensees and the police to licensing officers, plastic surgeons and drinks brand managers.
- User research suggests drinkers perceive it to be higher quality than plastic.
- Glass is inert, so food, drinks, medicines or cosmetics remain untainted by contact.
- Good recycling infrastructure is already in place for glass.
- Glass has low impact resistance. It breaks into potentially dangerous shards.
A number of manufacturers already offer plastic drinking glasses. At the top end of the quality scale are polycarbonate vessels, manufactured by injection moulding. Virtually unbreakable in normal everyday usage, polycarbonate is used as a shatter-resistant substitute for glass.
- High impact resistance
- Little or no injury risk.
- Drinkers dislike plastic glasses
- Flexible plastic glasses, when full, are difficult to carry without spillage
- Anecdotal evidence suggests excessive fizzing when beer is poured into the glass, resulting in wastage
- Plastic is seen to have poor environmental implications in disposal
- There is anecdotal evidence of significantly more littering when disposable glasses are used
- There are growing concerns over Bisphenol A (BPA) leaching from polycarbonate glasses
- Plastic is seen by some to be less inert than glass and many believe it changes the taste of the drink as a result
- Plastic is prone to scratching.
There are currently a number of formal and informal methods for introducing or enforcing the use of polycarbonate glasses. Amid growing resistance from the licensed trade and customers to a legal ban on conventional glasses, police officers and licensing authorities are increasingly reluctant to impose blanket bans. It is acknowledged that this is not the solution.
Designers’ skills and processes are already used to create innovative new products and services and their skills are equally suited to tackling pressing social problems such as alcohol related violence. The way designers work means design is an appropriate method for delivering social change and progress.
They understand the problem
Design is a problem solving discipline and at the start of every project designers need to do research that helps them fully understand the problem they have been asked to address.
Get to know the users. And any abusers
Designers regularly focus on delivering products and services that meet user needs, but when designing out crime they also need to think about the people that abuse the system. They need to know and understand users and abusers.
Research design ideas
What does safety mean and how have things been designed to be safer? Research can reveal how others have been making their products safer.
Search for appropriate materials and technologies
Designers understand their ideas need to be manufactured on a mass scale to become a commercial reality, so they collaborate with materials and technology experts. They don’t restrict themselves to looking for inspiration in the market they are designing for.
Sketch and visualise ideas
Sketching and developing computer models of design concepts is a core part of the design process because it helps designers communicate their ideas to each other and to their clients and it allows them to start testing whether their ideas can be modelled into reality.
Make models to test and use results to develop ideas
Models are useful to bring ideas to life, turning them into a 3D form that can be judged for scale, feel and performance. More sophisticated prototypes are essential for rigorous testing and they are helpful when testing your designs with users to help them understand how a final product will feel and how they will use it. Prototypes are also essential as production models to explain how the product could be manufactured at scale.
The Alliance has worked with the Design Council to marshal the evidence and insights captured in this publication and enable designers, beer brand owners and policy makers to understand the scale and effects of the problem of alcohol-related violence, and particularly glassings. It has also identified some key ways that professional design firms can help create a safer drinking experience.
Four design briefs were created to show how designers could approach the challenge. One design agency, Design Bridge, was commissioned by the Alliance to design its own response to the briefs that appealed to them. You can use these same briefs, or create your own, if you have been inspired to design a solution to alcohol related violence.
Brief 1 — Glass and more
Design an improved glass vessel that incorporates an additional design feature (branded or otherwise) that makes it appealing to the consumer but increases safety by reducing the opportunity for the vessel to be used as a weapon. Pub landlords think that glass is the best material to drink a pint from: ‘The beer holds its head much better in glass than it does in plastic. The presentation is much better and people prefer drinking from glass than plastic.’ So, if people like glass so much, why not let them keep it? But let’s make glass in drinks vessels safer.
Brief 2 — Under-the-radar safety
Design a new safer glass by modifying the properties and features of glass itself to make it less easy to break and use as a weapon. This will be a behind-the-scenes solution where the new design will not provide a significantly different user experience. Paul Hegarty, Director of Communications at brewer Coors, says: ‘However good the beer tastes when it leaves the brewery, it’s the experience when people drink it in the pub that really determines whether people like it. It’s all about surprising and delighting people at the pumps. It’s about what it tastes like but we also want to make sure that it looks great. It’s how it feels in the hand. We would be delighted to use a safe glass if the drinking experience was as great, or better, than with a normal glass.’
Brief 3 — I love plastic
Design a new plastic/composite drinking glass that harnesses material properties to give added benefits to the consumer (and brands) and address negative consumer attitudes to plastic. The new proposition should include consideration of a creative campaign to create positive attitudes towards the plastic glass. Sebastian Conran, Chairman of the Design & Technology Alliance Against Crime, thinks designers and beer brand owners are missing an opportunity to be innovative and use alternative materials in a pint glass. He says: ‘It’s not so much a question of what the polycarbonate glass is going to look like but what the customer experience is going to be. How are they going to be served? Are there things you can do with the serving of plastic glasses or paper cups that you can’t do with real glass?’
Brief 4 — The 21st century pint
Design a new safe drinking glass that goes back to the drawing board to set the new standard for drinking vessels for the 21st century. It should make the most of current advancements in manufacturing and material science to deliver a credible alternative to glass in its user experience while presenting a powerful business case to industry. Peter Hayden, author of An Inebriated History of Britain, says: ‘Present beer in a fashion that elevates it. Stop presenting it as a commodity. Start thinking of it as something that has intrinsic values rather than something that’s there to get you bladdered.’