Tackling explosion and fire risks

IECEx-certified equipment helps protect rescue teams in the aftermath of natural or industrial disasters

By Claire Marchand

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.

Rescue team searching through rubble Search and rescue team picks through a destroyed building

Increasing occurrences

The 21st century has already seen its share of major catastrophes – the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant explosion in Japan, Hurricane Sandy hitting the US East Coast in 2012, the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, or the cyclones, landslides and floods in the Philippines in 2018 and early 2019, to name a few.

To make matters worse, natural disasters may trigger industrial or accidental disasters. While the former may be deadlier and more destructive, the succession of tragic events may lead to the total destruction of large areas and an even greater number of fatalities.

This occurred when heavy rainfall following a typhoon caused the collapse of the Banqiao dam in China in 1975, resulting in the immediate death of more than 25 000 people and, indirectly, of 250 000 later.

A category 4 or 5 hurricane or an earthquake of high magnitude will most certainly cause extensive damage to critical infrastructures: energy generation, transportation, food production and water supply, public health, telecommunications and the economic sector in general. This damage may result in gas or oil leaks, fires or explosions, increasing the number of casualties and the risk of further destruction and harm to the environment.

Accidents caused by explosions may also happen in chemical plants, grain silos, sugar refineries and many other sites, such as laboratories.

In the aftermath of such incidents, rescue teams are faced with the challenge of finding survivors in extremely harsh conditions. They have to protect themselves and their equipment from fires and explosions, going through the rubble which may be unsafe; always conscious of the risks they’re exposed to.

The IEC at the forefront in standardization…

To prevent these accidents, specially designed and properly installed and maintained equipment and systems are essential. International standards for these are prepared by IEC TC 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres. TC 31 has a complete series of international standards that cover all specific requirements for Ex electrical and non-electrical equipment and systems. These include general requirements and protection levels for apparatus used by all sectors that operate in hazardous environments, such as oil refineries, offshore oil rigs, gas plants, mines, sugar refineries, flour mills, grain silos and the paper and textile sectors.

…and conformity assessment

Protecting installations and people against risks from explosive atmospheres is not only the result of comprehensive standardization work from IEC TC 31. It is also due, to a great extent, to the work of IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards relating to Equipment for use in Explosive (Ex) Atmospheres.

IECEx in a nutshell

IECEx provides:

  • a robust and credible system for the operation of standardized certification schemes
  • a dedicated IECEx website
  • on-line certificates in real time
  • a forum for the industry and stakeholders to have a voice in the running of the IECEx schemes

IECEx has the mechanisms in place to help industry, authorities and regulators ensure that electrical and non-electrical equipment 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.

Testing and assessment under the IECEx certified equipment scheme are accepted in all its member countries and beyond. The System provides access to global markets and drastically reduces costs by eliminating multiple re-testing and certification.

The global solution for Ex environments

Taken together, standardization work by IEC TC 31 and the IECEx system provide a global comprehensive solution to address many of the risks found in Ex environments. Their work is ongoing, as new risks arise and as new solutions are found.

This work is also relevant to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13: Climate action.

More information on IECEx: www.iecex.com

Gallery
Rescue team searching through rubble Search and rescue team picks through a destroyed building
fire-fighting robot This quick-deployment RXR-M80D-1 fire extinguishing robot can be used in disaster areas such as chemical plants, subway tunnels, gas leakage, and so forth (Photo: Beijing Topsky Century Holding Co. Ltd)
explosion-proof gas leak detector Explosion-proof gas leak detector (Photo: Direct Industry)