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The incident at the Lubrizol chemical plant in Rouen, France, is a powerful reminder that the most drastic safety measures are a must in explosive (Ex) environments.
Safety and health in the workplace, also known as occupational safety, is a fairly recent concept that can be traced back to the first industrial revolution when factory owners began to consider it as a labour-related issue. The Factory Acts of 1802, introduced out of concerns about the poor health of children working in textile mills, marks the beginning of health and safety regulation. Things have changed drastically since then and most countries around the world have enacted laws to protect their workforce, albeit with varying degrees of stringency.
Natural disasters strike at regular intervals on our planet. Every year natural disasters leave huge areas totally devastated. Many experts point the finger at climate change for the increased intensity of storms, flooding and drought that affect millions of people throughout the world.
In an interview with e-tech, IECEx Chair Prof Dr-Ing Thorsten Arnhold speaks about his lifelong involvement in the Ex sector and in IECEx.
I recently attended an international conference in Barcelona. The event was about safety solutions and, among other topics, it also dealt with hazardous areas. For me, as the IECEx Chair, there were many interesting conversations with end users, solution providers and certification bodies. It was very positive to see that the international acceptance and reputation of our System is continuously growing.
Every year sees its share of oil spills, gas leaks or industrial explosions that could have dire consequences for human beings as well as for the environment. They can be caused by the wrong or faulty equipment, poor maintenance and/or by poor operating procedures or mistakes.
Explosive (Ex) atmospheres – also termed hazardous areas/locations – 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.
Natural disasters may lead to industrial accidents but man, through non observance of strict safety measures, is more often than not responsible for damages, injuries and fatalities.
Faced with a “What-will-you-be-when-you-grow-up” question, a kid will choose rather conventional careers such as policeman/woman, astronaut, teacher, football player, actor, or singer; models and TV stars are more recent additions to the list. It’s pretty certain that no kid has ever said “I want to be an expert in explosive atmospheres!”
In just six years, the IECEx international conferences have made their mark and have become must-attend events on the annual conference circuit for the Ex industry sector. After Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2012, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2014, Gdańsk, Poland, in 2015 and Shanghai, China, in 2017, the city of Split, in Croatia, will host the fifth IECEx International Conference on 23 April 2018, so make sure to save the date in your calendar!
The times when a degree was the ultimate stage in your educational development are long gone. And so are the jobs for life. People today are more likely to switch profession more than once in their lifetime. They may have to completely reinvent themselves to embrace a new career. Even when they stay in their specific domain, technological advances and the digital age in general requires adaptation and ongoing training to keep up with the fast pace of the 21st century.
Every year, the IEC pays tribute to people from its organization, for their distinguished work and commitment to improving the safety, compatibility and energy efficiency of electrical products and systems, with its Thomas Edison Award.
Natural and industrial or accidental disasters can take many forms and have devastating human and material consequences. Some may be prevented or their impact mitigated through forecast, others not. Rescuing victims and repairing damage are essential for a return to normal life. Standardization work by a number of IEC technical committees (TCs) and subcommittees (SCs) may help warn of impending disasters as well as aid in assessing, repairing and mitigating their consequences.
Year in, year out, the list of incidents happening in hazardous areas doesn’t seem to be diminishing. The oil and gas sector has had its share of fires and explosions, obviously, that have been widely reported both in the general media and in specialized trade publications. But it’s not alone. Mining is another sector where risks are high for a number of reasons, including leaks of poisonous gases, dust explosions, collapsing of mine stopes, flooding, or improper use/malfunction of mining equipment, e.g. safety lamps or electrical equipment. Not to mention sugar refineries and food processing plants, and any industry that operates, even partially, in potentially explosive atmospheres.
IECEx, the IEC System for Certification for Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, chose to hold the 2017 IECEx International Conference in Shanghai, China, on 11-12 April 2017.
Natural and industrial or accidental disasters can take many forms and have devastating human and material consequences. Some may be forecast, others not, and there may be a range of significantly different outcomes. Standardization activities by a number of IEC technical committees (TCs) and subcommittees (SCs) may help warn of impending disasters as well as aid in assessing and mitigating their human and economic impact.
Explosions in a wide range of industrial or other installations can be caused by the wrong or faulty equipment, and/or by poor operating procedures or mistakes. Risks can be significantly reduced if equipment and systems that meet IEC Standards developed by IEC Technical Committee (TC) 31: Equipment for explosive environments, are used.
Some industry sectors are automatically associated with explosive (Ex) atmospheres – oil and gas, petrochemical plants, mining and in particular coal mining. Many others won’t necessarily come to mind although the risk of fire and explosion exists and needs to be heeded. Food processing, sugar refineries, grain handling and storage, printing, paper and textile industries, sawmills, woodworking areas or waste treatment operations are all potential hazardous areas. Not to mention gas stations or aircraft refuelling and hangars.
When the term electric vehicle (EV) comes up, it usually brings to mind electric cars and possibly buses or other means of urban transportation. Seldom do we see the mention of industrial vehicles, although they represent 60% of the global EV market. Even rarer is the mention of Ex-proof industrial EVs, which are increasingly used in hazardous areas, replacing diesel-powered vehicles.
The oil and gas industry sector has faced many challenges in recent years. The severe drop in oil prices has affected companies and economies throughout the world. In parallel, the need to for developed and developing countries to tackle climate change, introduce cleaner energy sources – renewables such as solar and wind, hydro – into the mix and become more energy efficient has seen some significant results when the Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016.
The interoperation between electrical and mechanical energies has existed for a long time. In standardization and conformity assessment, the need to provide a holistic solution to cover both is vital for industry and the community. While this may have been a given for most industries, the Ex sector has, for many years, focused exclusively on electrical equipment for its standardization and conformity assessment needs. This is no longer the case.
Closed-circuit television (CCTV) is increasingly used in locations that need constant monitoring – banks, casinos, airports, military installations or shopping malls, to name but a few. A great number of municipalities around the world have installed CCTV cameras in sensitive areas of their cities to deter criminality and monitor traffic. Many industry sectors resort to video surveillance in their manufacturing processes. And video cameras are playing a major role in the monitoring and management of explosive (Ex) areas.
Miners had learnt the hard way that their jobs were fraught with risks – fire damp, methane accumulation or suspended coal dust – when electric power was introduced. All it took to ignite methane for instance was a spark emitted by a lighting fixture or a motor. And the rapid growth of the oil and gas industry in the 20th century and the numerous accidents and explosions that occurred in oil drilling operations and refineries raised awareness of the dangers facing those working in this sector.
Batteries come in all forms and shapes and are probably the most common and widespread means of energy storage. From the AA or AAA type you buy at your local supermarket to the highly-sophisticated new generation of batteries used in smart portable devices, there are millions of products on offer. Not to forget electric vehicles (EVs). To increase their capacity and minimize their size, the batteries that power them are the focus of intense research and development throughout the world.
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.
Do you realize that your local bakery may be a potentially hazardous location? In fact any area where flour, sugar, or any other type of powder is stored or processed is a potential risk area. Your kitchen as well, if you think of it, since you’re bound to regularly use a wide variety of ingredients in powder form.
Workers are increasingly mobile and a growing number of enterprises around the world provide their workforce with mobile devices such as tablets, phablets or smartphones. Moreover, many people favour tablets over laptops when traveling or doing field work. The Ex industry sector is no exception.
The dramatic incident at the Formosa Fun Coast, a water park in Taiwan, at the end of June was an extremely tragic but important reminder that dust explosions are real and that any activity that involves the use of powder or dust is potentially hazardous.
Anyone of us can be in close contact with Ex or explosive atmospheres. They are not restricted to oil refineries, offshore oil rigs, gas plants or mines. While many industries operate in potentially hazardous environments, risks are also present in transportation: gas station or aircraft refuelling zones fully qualify as Ex areas.
More than a century ago, the introduction of electrical apparatus for signalling and lighting in coal mines provoked many electrically-induced explosions of flammable gases and dust. Consequentially, specific types of protection were developed to prevent explosions by eliminating contact between an explosive atmosphere and an ignition source.
IECEx (IEC System for Certification to Standards relating to Equipment for use in Explosive Atmospheres) has continued to grow in the past year. The IECEx International Conferences – in 2012 in the UAE (United Arab Emirates), and in 2014 in Malaysia – have contributed to increase awareness and visibility in the Middle East and Asia. The IECEx Certified Persons Scheme, launched in late 2010, has really taken off since 2013, benefitting from the support of several majors in the oil and gas industry.
In less than 20 years, the LED (light-emitting diode) technology has emerged as an increasingly popular light source. LED-based lighting solutions, first used in commercial and industrial environment, can now be found in all kinds of environments and applications. The new generation of LED lights is more efficient, less costly, lasts longer and can be fitted in any kind of lamp or luminaire available on the market.
Batteries are probably the most common and widespread means of energy storage. From the AA or AAA type you buy at your local supermarket to the highly sophisticated new generation of batteries used in EVs (electric vehicles) or by utilities, there are millions of products on offer.
AFSEC (African Electrotechnical Standardization Commission) and IECEx (IEC System for Certification to Standards relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres) are organizing an international seminar in Lumumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, on 7-8 September 2014. The event is organized in collaboration with AFREC (African Energy Commission) and OCC (Office Congolais de Contrôle), and in partnership with the Katanga mining authorities and Moïse Katumbi Chapwe, the governor of the Katanga Province.
While many countries throughout the world are integrating renewable energy sources into their energy mix, they still rely heavily on fossil fuels. According to the IEA (International Energy Agency), as primary sources of electricity generation, oil, gas and coal together account for the lion’s share (67,4%) of the world’s supply (IEA 2010).
Wherever cereals are grown in large quantities it is common to see silos used to store grain. Not so common is the knowledge that in these silos, or with any of the food processing equipment likely to be found alongside them, the thin layer of dust resulting from the processing has the potential to make a farm go up in flames.
It is important that the people working in explosive areas are competent and have the most up-to-date knowledge. Not having this knowledge could have serious repercussions, including costing live
In explosive areas, seemingly small failures can have disastrous effects. To meet the world’s ever increasing demand for energy, the oil and gas industries have built larger and more complex installations for extraction, processing and distribution, requiring increasing levels of capital investment. To protect these investments and the people working in the installations, compliance with International Standards is paramount.
A BBC News item dated 30 December 1986 announced that more than 200 canaries still employed in UK mines were to be made gradually redundant throughout 1987. The article stated that “new electronic detectors will replace the birds because they are said to be cheaper in the long run and more effective in indicating the presence of pollutants in the air otherwise unnoticed by miners.”
Offshore oil platforms, refineries, shipyards, gas and oil tankers operate 24 hours a day. Most human activities may go at a reduced pace at night but the tanker will continue to trace its route across the ocean, the rig will continue to drill or pump oil, and refineries never stop refining crude oil. Night-shift crews need powerful and reliable lighting to be able to work when it is dark. Lighting fixtures, as with any other piece of equipment or device used in hazardous areas, have to be explosion-proof.
Oil and gas refining, chemical processing, coal mining, paper and textile manufacturing, grain handling and storage, sugar refining. These are very different industrial sectors that have one thing in common. They all have hazardous areas in which flammable liquids, vapours, gases or combustible dusts present a fire or explosion hazard. The use of on-site electrical equipment just adds another spark to this dangerous mix. IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, is globally recognized as helping companies tame hazards in Ex (explosive) areas.
Potentially explosive environments are obvious terrains in which to choose to deploy robots. During the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, robotic submersibles were sent underwater to contain and ultimately cap the spill on the sea floor, where direct human intervention was impossible. But most robots used in Ex atmospheres don't operate in such difficult and extreme conditions.
China has seen huge economic changes in the past three decades. The state began to reform its economy at the end of the 1970s, shifting from a state-planned to a market economy. This move gave many industry sectors free rein to develop and grow, locally and internationally. Chinese industry is now a major player in the global market. China is also the country that has the world’s largest population.
Ex or explosive atmospheres are not restricted to oil refineries, offshore oil rigs, gas plants or mines. Many other industries also operate in potentially hazardous environments: sugar refineries, flour mills, grain silos and the paper and textile sectors, to name a few. Ex risks also exist in transportation.
Ron Sinclair, Managing Director of the private certification body Baseefa Ltd., was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the UK’s (United Kingdom’s) 2011 New Year’s Honours List for his services to Certification and Standards.