Encompassing most industry sectors

IECEx helps mitigate or eliminate hazards in Ex areas

By Claire Marchand

Explosive (Ex) atmospheres – also termed hazardous areas/locations – may be caused by flammable gases, mists or vapours or by combustible dusts. Some examples include the oil, gas or mining sectors. Most accidents that get wide media publicity are linked to fire and/or explosions on oil rigs or in underground mines.

Corn farming Dusty atmospheres found in grain handling and storage could potentially be considered explosive areas

Ex areas are (almost) everywhere

However, the coverage of Ex accidents and incidents by the specialized press paints another picture. Food processing plants, sugar refineries, gas stations, grain handling and storage, automotive manufacturing and repair, pharmaceuticals, furniture manufacturing, to name a few, have their share of incidents involving hazardous materials such as dusts, mists or vapours. In reality, most industry sectors may have at least one area that qualifies as a hazardous location (storing gas canisters, powders, etc.). They 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.

The risks are widespread. Manufacturers or sellers of equipment for use in Ex areas; anyone working in oil and gas, chemicals, petrochemicals or pharmaceuticals, or anyone supplying, specifying, buying or using Ex equipment in the engineering, procurement and construction sector; anyone installing, inspecting or repairing Ex equipment should be acutely aware of the risks inherent to his/her work. The safety and security of staff, community, environment and equipment is of the utmost importance.

Zero risk doesn’t exist

Zero risk may not be conceivable, but measures can be taken to mitigate hazards and make sure that those working in Ex environments do so in the safest possible way. These include installing and operating equipment that incorporates an explosion-protection technique as part of its design and manufacturing. It is also necessary to ensure staff has the required training, skills and competences to work in hazardous areas.

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.

IECEx operates the only global online certificate system dedicated to the Ex sector, allowing instant verification of claims of compliance of certificates issued by more than 100 IECEx certification bodies (ExCBs) in 35 member countries.

These certificates of conformity are issued via the following three schemes:

  • IECEx certified equipment scheme
  • IECEx certified service facilities scheme
  • IECEx scheme for certification of personnel competence

In addition, the IECEx conformity mark licencing system operates in association with the IECEx certified equipment scheme.

IECEx certificates issued by the ExCBs are centrally located and available for full public access on the IECEx  online certificate system.

Training for the CoPC

The IECEx recognized training provider (RTP) programme, launched a few years ago to assist applicants in their preparation for the certificate of personnel competence (CoPC), is growing fast. The RTPs provide candidates with knowledge and understanding of the terminology and protection concepts for electrical and non-electrical equipment used in explosive atmospheres, based on the IEC 60079 and the ISO/IEC 80079 series of international standards prepared by IEC Technical Committee 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres, and its subcommittees.

Personnel certification

The number of certificates issued by all IECEx schemes is steadily growing, with special emphasis on the certificates of personnel competence (CoPCs). These provide assurance that the persons working with design, selection, installation, inspection and maintenance of Ex equipment have had their knowledge and competence independently verified. Almost 3 000 CoPCs have been issued so far.

Non-electrical equipment

At the end of 2016, when ISO 80079-36 and ISO 80079-37 were published, IECEx added non-electrical (mechanical) equipment to its certified equipment scheme.

Safety is of the utmost importance in hazardous locations and equipment must be fire- or explosion-proof. For non-electrical equipment, the source of ignition comes from the action of the machinery that may create frictional contact, thus causing a spark or hot surface. Examples include: hydraulic pumps, gear boxes and crushers.

The addition of non-electrical equipment to the scheme has met with success, resulting in an increase from 17 certificates in June 2018 to 109 in June 2019.

United Nations endorsement

Since 2011, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), has endorsed the use of IEC TC 31 standards supported by the IECEx schemes as the “world best practice model for demonstrating conformity in the highly specialized Ex field”. This was reflected in the UNECE common regulatory objective (CRO), also published in 2011. The UNECE endorsement continues to assist IECEx recognition among regulators, for example, the US Coast Guard use of IECEx for equipment used on foreign flagged ships within their jurisdiction.

The UNECE CRO is currently under review and the updated edition planned for late 2019. To facilitate its input, IECEx has re-activated its management committee (ExMC) working group WG 8: Regulatory recognition.

For more information: www.iecex.com

Gallery
Oil industry refinery Oil, gas or mining are sectors that immediately come to mind when referring to Ex areas
Corn farming Dusty atmospheres found in grain handling and storage could potentially be considered explosive areas