Explosive atmospheres

The Ex (explosives) industry comprises all areas where a concentration of flammable gases, liquids, or combustible dusts may be present. These areas are called explosive atmospheres or hazardous locations. They include oil rigs, chemical processing plants, coal mines, sugar refineries, grain handling and storage sites, refuelling stations, and more. Working in such environments requires highly skilled people who are well aware of the potential dangers.

Safety is essential in these sectors and doesn't depend on the equipment alone. The personnel operating and handling the equipment are at the heart of the security issue. People working in hazardous areas are often subjected to extreme climatic conditions, on oil rigs for example. They need total confidence that the equipment they are operating is safe and reliable. They also need to be able to trust their skills and those of the people they work with.

This is where standardisation and conformity assessment can make a difference. The IEC, through its technical committee 31 'Equipment for explosive atmospheres' and IECEx System for certification to Standards relating to equipment for use in explosive atmospheres, offers tools on which personnel and equipment in Ex atmospheres can rely, for safety and reliability.

The Explosive atmospheres IEC 60079 series of international Standards covers many of the elements that have to be taken into consideration when working in an Ex environment – types of protection, classification of hazardous areas, repair and overhaul, to name but a few.

Certification and assessment of equipment, facilities, and people

IECEx provides assessment and certification of equipment, repair and overhaul facilities, and personnel skills for the Ex industry. The recently introduced IECEx Certification of personnel competencies scheme should prove to be very successful in meeting industry needs. As a global certification system that responds to the needs of a global industry sector, IECEx guarantees the highest possible levels of safety for anyone working in explosive atmospheres.

The recent formal endorsement by the United Nations, via the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, of IECEx as the best practice model for verification of compliance with international Standards is testament to the respect gained by IECEx in serving the needs of both government and industry for testing and certification in the Ex sector.

Summarised with permission from IEC E-TECH, March 2010.

Related Standards

Published in consumer and occupational safety.