The Differences Between Non-Sparking and Anti-Static Tools

Non-sparking and anti-static tools both have a common purpose—preventing fires or explosions in production facilities where flammable materials present a concern. However, they each are designed to prevent specific dangers, and shouldn’t be confused. Non-sparking tools are characterized by their lack of ferrous metals (steel and iron), which means they don’t cause sparks that could ignite under the right conditions.

Anti-static tools are carefully designed to work within a system of grounding equipment to prevent static electricity from building to the point it could damage electronics or provide enough of a charge to start a fire or explosion.

However, being non-sparking doesn’t mean a tool can’t also be anti-static. When properly grounded, a non-sparking tool can also prevent electrostatic discharge.

When are non-sparking tools needed?

Non-sparking tools are important for use in a facility that may have an explosive atmosphere or any reason to be especially concerned about the possibility of sparks causing a fire or an explosion. This typically concerns production facilities that contain flammable gas, mists, dusts, or liquids. Non-flammable tools are often used in oil refineries, paper companies, and ammunitions plants. Food processing facilities that use powdered milk, egg whites, cornstarch, grain, flour, or cornstarch may also use non-sparking tools since these can all create combustible dust hazards.

What are non-sparking tools?

Non-sparking tools are, essentially, those that don’t contain ferrous metals. Ferrous metals include steel and iron, in all of their different iterations. Items that are made from carbon steel, stainless steel, cast iron or wrought iron all have the possibility of producing a spark.

Non-ferrous metals include aluminum, copper, brass, silver and lead. They’re not the only materials that non-sparking tools are made out of, though.

Common non-sparking tools are made of:

  • Plastic
  • Brass
  • Bronze
  • Copper-nickel alloys
  • Copper-aluminum alloys
  • Copper-beryllium alloys
  • Wood
  • Leather

Plastic is a common non-sparking material for items like shovels, scrapers, paddles, and scoops.  Tools that need a higher tensile strength, like hammers or screws, are often made out of copper alloys, though beryllium tends to be avoided because of its possible toxicity.

There is a possibility that even non-sparking tools could cause a reaction called a “cold spark”, which doesn’t contain enough heat to ignite even the most flammable of substances, carbon disulfide. Cold sparks can still give the appearance that sparks are happening, but are safe around even the most flammable of substances.

When are anti-static tools needed?

Electronics components—especially motherboards—are extremely electrostatic discharge (ESD) sensitive. A simple static charge created by a worker walking across a floor to a workstation could destroy a motherboard, rendering the entire component useless. Most industries don’t need to worry about static discharge, but when flammable gas is in the air, such as acetone or methane, even a small discharge can create a fire or explosion.

What are anti-static tools?

Anti-static tools are more complex than not containing a specific type of metal. They must be a part of a complete program to safely discharge static.

Static electricity naturally builds up through three different processes:

  1. Tribocharging: Two materials (like socks and carpet) are brought into contact and then separated.
  2. Electrostatic induction: An electrically charged object is placed near a conductive object that isn’t grounded.
  3. Energetically charged particles impinge on an object: This is mostly a problem for spacecraft.

The most effective prevention for static electricity isn’t so much a single tool, as it is a system of precautions, grounding mechanisms and a lack of highly charged materials. Together, this creates an Electrostatic Discharge Protection Area (EPA) that works to keep electrostatic discharge (ESD) sensitive materials safe.

The principles of a successful EPA include:

  1. No highly charged materials
  2. All conductive materials are grounded
  3. Workers are grounded
  4. Electrostatic charge builds up on ESD-sensitive electronics is prevented

The hand tools you use in this environment are often made from plastics that are specifically created to work within this delicately balanced system. These electrostatic dissipative (ESD) tools have a balanced charge and low surface resistivity, which means they don’t gain or lose charge to the objects and surfaces that surround them. These tools have precise temperature and humidity ranges that they work in. If they’re used outside those ranges, they may still create a static charge.

 

If your facility needs non-sparking tools, all of our lines except our metal detectables will fit your needs. With the exception of some of our handles, they’re made of plastic, which makes our tools durable and safe to use in many different environments.

If you have a static sensitive environment, you may require anti-static tools, which we currently do not offer.

Some of our products, such as our green shovels, are made of plastic mixed with a static resistant compound. The compound is designed to reduce static and keep products from clinging to the tool. This doesn’t make them anti-static, and they shouldn’t be used in areas that have anti-static requirements.