What solvent ink users need to know about safety compliance, ATEX, and IECEx

What solvent ink users need to know about safety compliance, ATEX, and IECEx

Ease of evaporation is crucial to performance of solvent inks – but it’s also the reason for their flammability. For packaging printers working with solvent inks, therefore, the risk of explosion and safe handling are of paramount concern.

Why solvent inks pose a safety risk in package printing

Solvent inks are flammable because they contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their formulation, including alcohols or hydrocarbons that act as carriers for the ink’s pigments. These VOC carriers are called ‘volatile’ because they evaporate quickly. And while this assists in rapidly drying the ink on the substrate, it also means they have a low flash point – they emit vapour in concentrations that are high enough to form an ignitable mixture with air, at relatively low temperatures.

If these vapours are allowed to build up in the atmosphere of the printing facility, and come into contact with an ignition source such as a flame or a spark – there is a high risk of an explosion or fire, with potentially catastrophic consequences. Additionally, solvent inks may release fine dust particles that are also flammable.

Safety regulations for converters and ink suppliers

Explosions and fires are preventable with the correct equipment, and by adopting safety procedures and behaviour. Moreover, international regulations are in place to ensure a high level of safety in environments where there is a risk of explosion. These regulations affect anyone working with solvent inks – not only converters, but ink manufacturers and distributors too.

This blog explains the latest regulations in this area and measures that should be taken to assure compliance and safe handling of solvent inks.

ATEX Directives describe minimum EU safety standards

The ATEX Directives are two EU directives that describe the minimum safety requirements for equipment used and workplaces in explosive atmospheres. The directives’ name comes from initializing the French term Appareils destines à être utilises en Atmosphère Explosive (“Equipment intended for use in explosive atmospheres”).

The requirements of the directives have been put into effect through national legislation across the EU member states and in the UK. Work locations where there is a risk of dust explosions have to comply with legal ATEX directives. The directives also apply to ink dispensing systems that are used for solvent inks or paints in the printing facility.

Let’s have a look at the two ATEX Directives in more detail…

ATEX 114 – the “Equipment” Directive

ATEX 114, the ‘equipment’ Directive 2014/34/EU, describes the requirements for equipment and protected systems intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres. These specific requirements are detailed in European and international standards, such as EN-IEC 60079. Equipment that complies with these requirements is tested and authorised to carry an international logo. This logo is recognisable by a symmetrical hexagon that contains the inscription of an epsilon with an ‘X’.

ATEX 153 – the “Workplace” Directive

ATEX 153, the ‘workplace’ Directive 1999/92/EC, describes minimum requirements for improving safety and health protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres. This directive requires employers to classify areas where explosive atmospheres may occur into ‘safety zones’.

ATEX safety zones – and how to assess risk in the print facility

This classification of each safety zone is based on the likelihood of an explosive atmosphere occurring:

  • Zone 0: this is defined as the zone with the greatest risk of explosion. This applies when a mixture of flammable materials is present at a specific location for more than 1,000 hours per year – for example, the immediate area around the printing press, and where the solvent inks are processed.
  • Zone 1: this describes a space of medium risk, where an explosive atmosphere is likely to occur in normal operation occasionally. A mixture of flammable materials can be present in this zone for between 10 and 1,000 hours per year.
  • Zone 2: this is where an explosive atmosphere is not likely to occur in normal operation. Here, any flammable mixture is present for fewer than 10 hours per year. An example can be the area surrounding a barrel containing base components

IECEx – globally recognized equipment safety certification

IECEx certification is a globally recognized certification system for equipment and services used in explosive atmospheres or “Ex Areas”. Its aim is to ensure Ex Areas and personnel working in them are as safe as possible. Its quality assessment specifications are based on the standards set by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). IECEx comprises three conformity assessment schemes:

  • The Certified Equipment Scheme – providing assurance that equipment used in hazardous areas meets the strictest safety requirements. For equipment users, this means a reduced risk of explosions, fires and accidents.
  • The IECEx Certification of Personnel Scheme – evaluating and certifying the competence of individuals working in or for hazardous locations.
  • The IECEx Certified Service Facilities Scheme – for evaluation and certification of service providers for equipment repair, inspection and maintenance.

How ATEX differs from IECEx

While ATEX is driven by legislation, IECEx is “standards-driven” and has global significance. It is recognized in many countries, making international trade and market access for certified products easier.

While ATEX concerns the EU, IECEx has global significance, with its standards incorporated into safety legislation in many countries around the world.

In some respects, IECEx requirements are more stringent than those of ATEX. For example, under ATEX, the manufacturer may assemble the modules for type-testing and production control. However, IECEx requires a third party to take this responsibility. Furthermore, IECEx offers transparency, as all certification is web-based and can be checked and downloaded on the IECEx certification website.

Safety-compliant ink dispensers bring peace of mind!

Thanks to IECEx certification and ATEX compliance, personnel in the print house can rest assured their equipment meets the most stringent safety standards for explosive atmospheres associated with solvent inks. Ink dispensers for processing solvent inks have been specially adapted to meet those standards.

In the next blog, we will explore what features are necessary for ink dispensers to comply with ATEX directives and IECEx safety standards.

If you have any questions about our solutions for your ink logistics, do not hesitate to contact us!