Understanding Electrostatic Dissipative Flooring
If you’ve ever gotten zapped while pulling fresh clothes out of the dryer, or had your hair stand up on end while pulling off a hat, you’ve encountered static electricity being released (a process known as “electrostatic discharge”). Neither of these situations is particularly painful or dangerous to the human body—partly because the voltage is so low. Sparks first become visible in darkness at 750 volts, and it requires approximately 3,500 volts for a person to physically feel a static shock.
In contrast, as little as 25 volts of static electricity can damage the type of sensitive electronic equipment found in data centers and server rooms, integrated circuit and semiconductor assembly plants, laboratories and other scientific, healthcare and manufacturing facilities. Even when personnel are unaware of the problem, they can transfer a potentially damaging static charge to anything with which they interact, including other people, electronic equipment, machinery, raw materials and finished goods.
OSHA, the ESD Association and other agencies and organizations have developed protocols to help protect both personnel and equipment from the effects of static electricity in the environment. Such effects may include:
- Danger to employees, which can extend far beyond the low voltage “zap” felt by an individual. For example, in a laboratory and manufacturing facility, a worker’s startled response and quick, sudden movement can cause an accident in the workplace, such as knocking over equipment or chemicals, or bumping into other workers nearby.
- Damage to sensitive parts and equipment, including items used in the manufacturing or assembly process, as well as finished goods on warehouse shelves. Depending on the situation, even a very low voltage charge can create processing problems, such as inaccuracies on the production line. Should out-of-spec product make it into consumers’ hands, the results can include customer dissatisfaction, loss of company reputation and costly returns. Such issues are bound to be time-consuming and expensive to remediate.
- Fires and even explosions, resulting from uncontrolled static in the vicinity of volatile chemicals or other combustibles, whether solid surfaces, powders, liquids or gas. In addition, conversion processes involving web-fed plastic films on industrial printing presses, if not properly grounded, can result in dangerous electric arc discharges and subsequent hazards.
Electrostatic Dissipative (ESD) Flooring
ESD coatings, as part of a total facility program, can be extremely effective at keeping electrostatic discharge at bay. Static control floor coatings can help prevent the buildup of negative ions, while sending static electricity safely to a grounding point.
The terms “conductive” and “static dissipative” represent two subdivisions of ESD properties. However, they both refer to how easily a static charge can travel across any surface. This is called “surface resistance” and is measured in ohms. The ESD Association has strict guidelines regarding the use of each type, based on its surface resistance. Knowing your own environment—the materials and equipment within it—can help you choose the optimal flooring or coating for your facility-wide ESD program. Note that you may also see the term “insulative.” This type of product is not considered safe in an ESD environment. When in doubt, contact a facility safety engineer or the ESD Association for guidance.
The industrial marketplace offers a variety of anti-static floor coverings that meet ESD Association guidelines, including different carpet and VCT tile, as well as concrete coating options. All static control flooring is intended to be used as part of a total facility ESD safety program that can include personal protective equipment and other measures when warranted.
While one or the other type of ESD flooring may be useful for a specific room or activity, facility managers should be mindful that some types of ESD floor surfaces require more maintenance and special handling than others. However, ESD epoxy floor coating systems offer consistent, reliable static dissipation over the life of the floor. Other benefits of high-performance floor coatings include:
- Excellent chemical and solvent resistance.
- Good abrasion resistance.
- Very low to zero VOCs, for better IAQ (Indoor Air Quality).
- Improved room sanitation and dust reduction, thanks to a virtually seamless surface.
- Options to help mitigate concrete moisture vapor transmission (MVT), where needed.
- Low maintenance, with no polishing, waxing or special treatments required in maintaining static control properties.
- Excellent life-cycle value.
A quality epoxy floor manufacturer with ESD-qualified personnel on staff can recommend a factory-trained contractor for your installation, as well as conduct post-installation ESD testing to ensure the floor is performing as designed. Partnering with a respected ESD floor coating manufacturer can help save time and budget, and help you properly meet the requirements of your facility’s ESD safety program.