Electrical safety for signmakers
Thomas Berens of the European Sign Federation (ESF) discusses his work on introducing a Technical Guideline for electrical safety of luminous signs based on the ESF’s published code of practice for signmakers.
Effective signmaking requires a wide range of skills. For example, signmakers need a highly developed creative instinct to fulfil the customer’s brief. There needs to be technical proficiency and craftsmanship to bring those creative ideas to life. In addition, there needs to be practical application, to make the product secure and sustainable for long-term use.
All of these skills are put to the test particularly stringently when we introduce the added element of electrical illumination, that also brings with it a new consideration: electrical safety.
“The risk of low voltage here is often underestimated and larger smouldering fires are, fortunately, the exception, but the risk remains,” Thomas Berens, Technical Director of the ESF, explains.
If a luminous sign is not properly grounded, there is a considerable risk of fire due to overheating of the components
“In addition to causing short circuits or the risk of electric shock, if a luminous sign is not properly grounded, there is a considerable risk of fire due to overheating of the components from the use of oversized transformers, connectors or incorrect cable cross-sections, and exceeding the supply line lengths, especially with now standard 12 or 24V LED lighting.”
With so many safety-relevant aspects to bear in mind, it was somewhat strange to see the withdrawal of the previous standard – EN 50107-3:2018 Product standard covering luminous signs with discharge lamps and/or LED (light emitting diodes) and/or EL (electroluminescent) lightsources with a nominal voltage not exceeding 1000V, with the exclusion of general lighting, traffic or emergency related purpose.
“The withdrawal of the product standard EN 50107-3 in 2021 meant a step backwards for the sign industry. However, the standard was not withdrawn due to technical defects, but purely for legal and national reasons, and conflicts with the technical committee from the lighting industry,” Thomas says.
“It is important that the published technical content of the standard continues to apply for the manufacture of luminous signs. Talks have been started in order to re-publish the technically correct content and requirements in a future product standard for luminous signs.”
Code of practice
In the meantime, to fill this guidance gap, Thomas and the ESF have established a code of practice for signmakers.
“Since not only one standard has to be taken into account during the production of electric luminous signs, although only specific areas of more extensive standards might need to be considered, we at the ESF have made it our task to provide signmakers with a code of practice that features instructions provided by all the relevant important standards,” Thomas says.
Guidelines are required for the implementation of these standards not only by the signmakers, but also by digital printers, who primarily produce illuminated frames with textile coverings themselves
“Therefore, our ESF code of practice does not differ from the valid EN standards, but specifically refers to the EN standards to be taken into account when manufacturing, installing and maintaining signs. It’s also important to point out that easy-to-understand guidelines are required for the implementation of these standards not only by the signmakers, but also by digital printers, who primarily produce illuminated frames with textile coverings themselves.”
While the ESF has worked to clarify the most relevant standards for luminous signs, one fundamental area of confusion still remains: what constitutes a luminous sign, and what constitutes some other light-emitting product?
“I think signage manufacturers who act as suppliers in the industry are all familiar with complying with the relevant standards,” Thomas said.
“But we have to realise that the topic of electrical safety in particular leads to uncertainty among them, precisely because a luminous sign can very quickly be classified as a product or a luminaire, depending on its design and use.
“In that case, much stricter requirements apply to the manufacturer, the fulfilment of which can only be verified by external testing institutes. In the event of any damage that could be caused by such a sign, and a simultaneous lack of professional and complete documentation, the signmaker faces a huge problem.
“Within our Technical Group at the ESF, we are currently conducting intensive discussions about the terminology and to what extent a luminous sign is an installation and when is it a product for which other components need to be used and more extensive documentation or operating instructions is required. It is precisely this lack of a clear definition that makes it so difficult for the signmaker or a digital printer to produce a luminous sign or lit textile frame in a compliant manner.”
Expanding the scope
At the moment, the ESF’s code of practice covers all areas of design and manufacture for all types of signs. But the ESF wants to highlight aspects of its code of practice with a series of Technical Guidelines that will focus on the most important items of the code when it comes to complying with standards when producing a sign.
“The last edition of the code of practice was published in April 2023 and is available to the national sign associations that are members of the ESF and its members,” Thomas says.
“For further publicising and fulfilment of all standards that affect the manufacture of illuminated advertising systems, the ESF is striving to create a multi-part Technical Guideline publication series for sign companies – which will include electrical safety of luminous signs.”
Electrical safety is the start, but Thomas and the ESF plan to expand the concept more widely, potentially with the help of FESPA, to highlight other areas.
“A first draft was prepared by me in June of this year. Further development is being considered but it requires funding that cannot easily be met with ESF funds. That's why we sought talks with FESPA and agreed on a first joint meeting during FESPA’s Global Print Expo in Munich earlier this year.”
Safety for UK signmakers
Even in post-Brexit Britain, Thomas says, UK signmakers face the same concerns and have the same support as their European counterparts.
“The UKCA and the CE marks are both a manufacturer’s declaration of conformity,” Thomas says.
“The manufacturer thus declares compliance with certain standards in the production of his goods. As GB continues to be a member of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization (CENELEC), the same standards apply to both the British and the rest of Europe's signmakers, which they must observe and comply with.”
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