Widespread risks

How best to ensure protection of industrial assets in hazardous areas

By Claire Marchand

Contrary to preconceived ideas, hazardous areas are not the “privilege” of a few specific industry sectors. They can be found almost anywhere at any given time when certain conditions leading to the formation of an explosive atmosphere are met.

Oil pipeline Hazardous areas include oil pipelines

What is a hazardous location?

Wikipedia defines hazardous locations as “places where fire or explosion hazards may exist due to flammable gases or vapours, flammable liquids, combustible dusts, or easily ignitable fibres or flyings present in the air in quantities sufficient to produce explosive or ignitable mixtures.” 

Obvious and not so obvious

The oil and gas, mining, chemical and petrochemical sectors are the natural candidates that come to mind. Their operations are in hazardous areas and their workers are exposed 24/7 to the risks inherent to such locations. 

But then there are many other industry sectors that are either intermittently exposed to explosive atmospheres or that have very specific and confined areas that can be classified as hazardous locations. 

Here are some examples of potentially hazardous locations: 

  • Oil and gas refineries, offshore platforms, rigs and processing plants
  • Drilling
  • Fuel storage
  • Automotive refuelling stations or petrol/gas stations
  • Aviation, refuelling and hangars
  • Coal mining
  • Petrochemical/chemical processing plants
  • Car manufacturing
  • Printing industries, paper and textiles
  • Painting
  • Fertilizer industry
  • Gas pipelines and distribution centres
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Distilleries and breweries
  • Food manufacturers
  • Grain handling and storage
  • Woodworking areas
  • Sugar refineries
  • Water treatment
  • Waste treatment, sewerage plants
  • Power Generation
  • Military
  • Metal surface grinding, especially aluminium dusts and particles
  • Surface coating industries 

The list is by no means exhaustive. 

Even at home

A simple kitchen presents potential risks when flour, sugar or cocoa powder is part of the ingredients used to prepare a meal. All it needs is a faulty light switch, one that emits a small, hardly visible spark when touched – totally innocuous most of the time – to start an explosion. The only safe course here is to keep the area as clean as possible to avoid the accumulation of powders and dusts in nooks and crevices… and to have the faulty switch fixed! 

Ex-proof equipment

Factories and plants operating in hazardous areas can rely on equipment – in particular electrical equipment – that is designed to contain explosions within the device and that doesn’t produce sparks with enough energy to trigger an explosion. 

Designed and built for Ex areas

All pieces of equipment and devices used in explosive (Ex) atmospheres, whether large or small, have to be designed and built in compliance with the very strict requirements set out in standards and specifications, most notably in the IEC 60079 series of International Standards developed by IEC Technical Committee (TC) 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres. 

Testing and certification are a must

Designing and building devices operating in Ex areas in compliance with IEC International Standards is not enough on its own. To ensure that any piece of equipment meets the required criteria, it has also to be tested and certified. Products associated with a certificate of conformity satisfy the criteria for safe usage in hazardous environments. 

To make sure that the equipment purchased meets the very strict requirements specified in IEC 60079, as well as those put in place by national or regional regulations and legislation, the Ex industry can rely on IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres for testing and certification. 

An IECEx certificate provides clear proof of compliance with International Standards, an important assurance for anyone responsible for the safety of those working in such areas.

IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, is the only truly international Conformity Assessment (CA) System that provides testing and certification for all Ex equipment and installations. 

Certificates issued by the IECEx provide clear proof of compliance with International Standards, an important assurance for anyone responsible for the safety of those working in such areas. 

Repairing, not replacing

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. And again the IEC, through TC 31, has developed an International Standard, IEC 60079-19, which gives instructions, principally of a technical nature, on the repair, overhaul, reclamation and modification of equipment designed for use in explosive atmospheres. This ensures that unique Ex safety features are not compromised during the repair or overhaul process. The system includes on-site audits prior to issuing the IECEx certificate and periodic audit reports. 

The IECEx Certified Service Facilities Scheme also covers other Ex related services including, installation and inspection of Ex equipment and installations. 

High level of safety for Ex workforce

Ensuring that all equipment is designed, built or repaired in compliance with IEC International Standards is essential but may not be sufficient. What if those operating the equipment do not possess the very specific qualifications required to work in Ex environments? 

To cover all safety aspects in Ex environments and to complement the Certified Equipment Scheme, IECEx has developed the IECEx Certification of Personnel Competence Scheme for assessing and certifying individuals working in potentially hazardous areas. 

The IECEx CoPC (Certificate of Personnel Competence) provides independent proof that the certificate holder has the required qualifications and experience for working on electrical equipment located in hazardous areas and can implement IEC International Standards covering explosive atmospheres. 

For the CoPC, competence is defined as "the ability to apply knowledge" rather than simply assessing knowledge. In this sense, the assessment of persons includes assessing their ability to perform certain Ex-related tasks. 

Increased level of security

Manufacturers who rely on IECEx for the testing and certifying of their equipment, who have their staff go through the steps necessary to obtain a Certificate of Personnel Competence, have that additional level of security that makes a real difference. They know that they operate in the best possible conditions and minimize the risks inherent to Ex sector. 

More information: www.iecex.com

Fermenting tank in winery all types of flammable materials (vapour, dust and gas) necessary for an explosion are present in beer and spirits manufacturing facilities - here fermenting tanks in a winery
Oil pipeline Hazardous areas include oil pipelines...
Pill powder ...the pharmaceutical industry...
Silons for storing grains ...and silos for grain storage