Safety in Ex areas is paramount

IECEx helps mitigate risks in explosive atmospheres

By Claire Marchand

Taipei in June, Bosley in July and Tianjin in August: colour powders blown in the air and allegedly ignited by the heat emanating from the spotlights during a colour festival in Taiwan, a building collapsing at a flour mill site in the UK and warehouses storing hazardous chemicals totally devastated in China. These three cities made headline news for dramatic reasons, i.e. massive explosions that killed many, seriously injured many more and caused significant damage.

IECEx apps
IECEx has launched new mobile apps for iOS and Android devices

More than you think

Explosive (Ex) atmospheres, which can be caused by flammable gases, mists or vapours or by combustible dusts, are by no means restricted to the oil, gas and petrochemical industry sectors. The risk of fire or explosion exists in a variety of other sectors, such as transportation – including aerospace – furniture manufacturing, automotive manufacturing and repair, pharmaceuticals, food processing, grain handling and storage, sugar refineries and coal mining. The leisure sector is not exempt from risks either, as the Taipei amusement park fire and explosions have demonstrated.

They all utilize flammable substances in quantities that may result in concentrations that are potentially explosive, whether that is during normal operation or due to abnormal situations arising.

Zero-risk is utopia…

Zero risk may not be conceivable but there are measures that can be taken to mitigate risks and make sure that those working in Ex environments do so in the safest possible way. One is to install and operate equipment that is explosion-proof. Another is to hire staff that has the necessary training, skills and competences to work in hazardous areas.

…but tools exist to mitigate Ex hazards

The IEC, through IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, has the mechanisms in place to help industry, authorities and regulators ensure that equipment (electrical and non-electrical) as well as the people working in Ex locations benefit from the highest level or safety.

The System is truly international and has been endorsed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) as the world’s best practice model for the verification of conformity to International Standards for explosive atmospheres.

IECEx in a nutshell

The Conformity Assessment (compliance) System operates industry-specific Schemes:

  • IECEx Certified Equipment Scheme
  • IECEx Certified Service Facilities Scheme
  • IECEx Scheme for Certification of Personnel Competence

The IECEx Conformity Mark Licensing System operates in association with the IECEx Certified Equipment Scheme.

While industry representatives and regulators form the majority of the IECEx Management Committee (ExMC), other stakeholders such as repairers, installers, Ex training organizations and educators also sit on the ExMC.

Costly equipment

Because Ex equipment has a much higher capital cost than the same equipment used elsewhere, repairing it is often more cost-effective than replacing it. The IECEx Certified Service Facility Scheme, launched in 2007, recently expanded its scope to include the assessment and certification of organizations offering a range of services to industry such as:

IECEx Certificates

IECEx operates the only global online certificate system dedicated to the Ex sector. Given that most consumers of Ex products are well aware of the issues pertaining to that field, the IECEx online system provides instant verification of claims of compliance, providing the one single location where certificates can be found with full public access. One key aspect is that the IECEx Certificate reference number must be included on product labels for clear traceability purposes.

IECEx on the go

IECEx launched its first mobile application in early 2013. The app, available for iOS and Android devices, installed a simplified version of the main IECEx web-based Online Certificate System covering IECEx Certified Equipment and allowing for instant verification of IECEx certificates both online and offline.

The app has now been updated and a new version launched in September 2015, together with two other apps working on the same model and providing access to all certificates in the IECEx Certified Service Facilities Scheme and the IECEx Scheme for Certification of Personnel Competence respectively.

Training Ex workers

In support of the IECEx Certified Persons Scheme, IECEx responded to industry requests to provide a qualification programme that identifies Ex training organizations that would likely be able to assist a candidate in his/her preparation for the IECEx Certified Persons Scheme assessment process, and launched the IECEx Recognized Training Provider (RTP) Programme in May 2015. Four RTPs are already listed on the IECEx website and many others have started the application process.

International IECEx Conference

The 2015 International IECEx Conference, held in Gdánsk, Poland, on 22-23 April, was a huge success. Organized by IECEx, together with Urzad Dozoru Technicznego (UDT) and in conjunction with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the event attracted provided attendees with the opportunity to learn more about IECEx and recent developments in the work of IEC TC 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres, and the role of its International Standards in regulations throughout the world. A segment was dedicated to the practical applications of Standards and the pitfalls when dealing with installations where flammable and combustible materials may be present.

It was evident from the huge attendance and active participation of attendees that the industry is using IECEx as a tool to verify compliance with IEC International Standards.

Special industry meeting at GCC GSO

In further support of this global interest, the IECEx Chairman and Executive Secretary both attended a special industry workshop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in March 2015 to present IECEx as part of a GSO initiative to promote IECEx in the Gulf Region. GSO is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Standardization Organization.

IEC General Secretary and CEO Frans Vreeswijk made a video address to the workshop which was well received.

The outcome of the workshop was a commitment from Saudi Arabia to join IECEx and to hold a larger Gulf-wide two-day International Conference to promote the awareness and understanding of IECEx.


The IECEx Secretariat also attended various key industry events, including those organized by the Petroleum and Chemical Industry Committee (PCIC) in Europe, North America and the Middle East.

More information on IECEx:

IECEx certifies the competence of individuals working in Ex areas such as oil rigs The 2015 International IECEx Conference took place in Gdánsk, Poland in April
Gdansk old town and waterfront IECEx has launched the IECEx Recognized Training Provider programme
IECEx apps IECEx has launched new mobile apps for iOS and Android devices