By Lisa Guerriero
Advancements in digital technology allow more print service providers (PSPs) to introduce and expand their textile printing services, from banners to silicone edge graphics (SEGs). Numerous regulations and standards address safety concerns—specifically in regards to fire prevention.
There is no all-encompassing law or standard that print providers must meet. To minimize liability and satisfy job requirements, PSPs work with textile vendors and customers to meet fire codes and verify that necessary certifications are in place.
When working with textiles, a print provider should refer to national standards as well as state and local codes. In addition to regulations that govern the PSP’s own location, codes in the customer’s municipality may also affect a job.
“There is a range of different certifications available for flame repellants. Not all are automatically accepted in different jurisdictions across America,” explains Jeff Sanders, digital fabrics sales manager, Pacific Coast Fabrics.
U.S. standards offer voluntary guidelines. Many counties and municipalities use national policies as the basis for local codes, which are frequently more stringent. In some cases, certificates are required.
“Local or state codes are going to take precedence,” says Rick Hartwig, environmental, health, and safety specialist – government and business information, Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA).
Safe textile printing is often a moving target in terms of both customer expectations and the complexity of certain codes. Industry organizations and vendors offer resources to help PSPs stay informed of changes to safety standards and adjust to the unique requirements of each job.
National and International
PSPs should be familiar with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 701. Often called the small-scale test, it measures the flammability of textiles in public spaces. When a product is described as durable against cleaning or weathering, NFPA 701 calls for testing before and after cleaning or exposure.
NFPA 701 addresses many, though not all, of the textile-based applications created by digital print providers. These include banners, SEGs, awnings, tents, and curtains. The regulation determines testing methods for many fabric manufacturers. Additionally, end customers frequently cite it as the benchmark PSPs must meet.
“That’s the baseline—that’s the regulation that’s going to pop up often,” observes Hartwig.
NFPA 705 is a field test used when reliable laboratory data is unavailable or outdated. Hartwig suggests it’s only an issue for a PSP in select situations. A customer may request periodic testing of a product installed in a highly public location. Or, field testing may be needed for fabric that was in storage for an extended time. The need for retesting varies based on the type of fabric, the conditions in which it was stored, and how long it was sitting. PSPs can consult the manufacturer if in doubt about whether field testing is needed.
For textile-based wallcoverings, customers and vendors typically follow ASTM International’s E84, NFPA 265, or both. These test methods evaluate the fabric’s flammability characteristics and determine how the material could contribute to the spread of a fire. Additionally, ASTM E84 utilizes a classification system for wall and ceiling coverings and finishes. The categorization is based on how a material responds during a “tunnel test.”
For a Class A certification, ASTM E84 calls for a flame spread index of zero to 25 and a smoke-developed value of zero to 450. “Most public places won’t accept a fabric that doesn’t meet Class A,” notes Sharon Roland, advertising and PR manager, Fisher Textiles.
Print providers should closely examine any wall, ceiling, or floor covering media they purchase in order to meet customers’ expectations. They may need to consult the vendor to clarify the specific product’s composition.
“Many wallcoverings are a PVC-based front surface but are backed by a canvas-like material to give it extra weight and strength. So, from a canvas perspective, both canvas and many wallcoverings may fundamentally qualify as fabrics as well,” observes Bruce Walker, client solutions and apps tech, Sihl Inc.
International fire safety regulations vary by country. Europe’s EN 13501 and Germany’s DIN 4102 are especially relevant because many vendors who sell to U.S. print providers follow one or both of the standards. EN 13501 and DIN 4102 both utilize a rating system that classifies the textile based on factors like flame spread, smoke development, and production of burning droplets.
Another standard, REACH, focuses on registration, evaluation, authorization, and restriction of chemicals. The policy enacted by the European Union in 2006 includes guidelines for textile safety. Developed to address health and environmental issues related to chemicals, the legislation is considered stricter than previous codes.
“Because of this legislation we do not use any so-called SVHC—substances of very high concern—in our production. Some of these harmful SVHC are flame retardants, plasticizers, or textile auxiliaries, which are still used in many foreign countries, particularly in Asia,” explains Dr. Peter Siemens, head of development and innovation, Verseidag Indutex GmbH.
State and Local Codes
Print providers are sometimes surprised to learn that more local codes supersede the national ones. Fire safety policy tends to shift from suggested guidelines to mandatory certifications at the state, county, and local level.
“Each state differs and may require additional certifications on top of NFPA 701,” observes Lily Hunter, product manager – textiles and consumables, Roland DGA Corporation.
CA’s Title 19 is considered the most demanding state fire code in the U.S. Its testing includes measurement of char length and after flame—how long the material continues to flame after the fire source is removed. Some textile vendors follow CA guidelines to ensure their products can be used anywhere. Additionally, print buyers frequently stipulate that PSPs meet CA requirements.
“Many companies need to meet this standard with their products, regardless of where they sell them,” says Sky Griffith, marketing manager, Value Vinyls.
Counties and municipalities often supplement state law with their own fire codes. A customer may be willing to accept a different fire safety standard as long as it’s similar to their own, but the PSP would still have to follow specific protocols to be certified by local standards. Urban communities with high populations tend to issue stricter regulations. As with CA’s policy, city codes are sometimes utilized by other communities.
“Other popular flame resistance codes are from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as well as the City of Boston Fire Code,” notes Bill Shuford, TexStyles product manager, Beaver Paper & Graphic Media, Inc.
Hartwig suggests print providers start in the local arena. The fire marshal’s office or fire department may point the PSP to a national standard that must be followed. If there are additional certifications to acquire or standards to meet—such as a specific treatment that must be applied to the textile—the local officials will know.
If the graphics are sent out of town or state, print providers should also check with local officials in the destination municipality. Voluntarily following a stricter code reduces the likelihood of problems at the local level.
For example, performing due diligence on where a trade show graphic is being displayed can avoid any issues at the actual location. “In exhibit halls, the fire marshal has jurisdiction over the removal of exhibits if they don’t meet the hall’s flame retardant standards or have the proper flame certification on hand. It is crucial for the exhibitor to have flame certifications that show which standards are met for the fabrics used in their booth,” points out Roland.
Keeping Pace with Policy
Manufacturers observe that safety expectations have changed over the past few years. End customers are more likely to request certifications in addition to NFPA 701, and event venues have stricter policies. “It is becoming increasingly common for fire officials to want to see documentation of flame repellence, even in outdoor environments,” observes Sanders.
Some textile vendors anticipate that safety regulations will be revised in the future, including chemical policies that are more consistent with REACH standards. “Safety regulations are becoming stricter as public welfare continues to be a prime concern,” suggests Kylie Schleicher, marketing manager, Ultraflex Systems, Inc.
As digital textiles are utilized in new environments and applications, PSPs may face more stringent requirements or additional criteria. Siemens suggests current fire regulations were designed for rigid materials more than textiles, something he expects will change. “This has been realized by some certification bodies and will be addressed in the next revision of the EN 13501,” he says.
Fire safety standards are subject to change based on a number of factors. For example, Hartwig says, if the Environmental Protection Agency banned a chemical used in a flame repellence coating, agencies would have to update their fire codes.
Industry organizations like SGIA and the International Sign Association offer resources to educate print providers about textile safety standards. The Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) offers various forums for learning about textile safety, including webinars on fire codes and flame retardancy.
“IFAI is a great resource for anyone wanting to better understand textiles and the latest certifications,” recommends Shuford.
PSPs can ask fabric vendors how they stay current with safety. Trusted manufacturers often work with accredited, independent commercial testing laboratories. They may also subscribe to publications for updates on testing and policy revisions.
“I keep up to date on information with the many educational industry associations and from our testing laboratory,” notes Angela Mohni, director of product marketing – business machines, GBC, part of ACCO Brands.
Some textile vendors offer PSPs informational pieces about the fire testing completed on their fabrics—a cheat sheet that spells out the protocol and regulations for each product. If a print buyer has unique safety expectations, “fabrics can be custom developed to meet construction specifications as well as safety requirements,” suggests Griffith.
While many digital textiles have fire resistant qualities, PSPs still must follow varying codes and standards for fire resistance. With the plethora of regulations—national, international, state, county, and city—textile printing can be daunting.
NFPA 701 is a core regulation. Though it doesn’t meet every state or customer’s standards, it is a time-tested benchmark that is appropriate for many applications. With textile wallcoverings, an ASTM E84 rating is usually required, although satisfying NFPA 265 is sufficient for some. While international standards vary, many nations follow Europe’s EN 13501 or Germany’s DIN 4102 regulations.
Meeting national guidelines isn’t enough. Frequently, state and local policies require additional testing and certification. When working with customers in multiple geographical areas, PSPs benefit from following a stricter code—such as the state of CA’s—then necessary and consulting fire officials in the customer’s city or town.
Like digital fabric printing itself, textile safety laws continue to evolve. Industry resources and communication with fabric manufacturers help PSPs adapt to changing expectations, testing methods, and regulations.
Nov2015, Digital Output