IECEx/Global Outlook Explosion Protection Explosion Protection Around the Globe: Ex for Everyone, Please!

Author / Editor: Dr. Thorsten Arnhold* / Wolfgang Ernhofer

Once the global explosion protection is achieved, a piece of equipment approved in one country will automatically be recognised as safe in the rest of the world. An increasing number of certificates shows that many market players wish to move ahead towards that goal. Reason enough to take a closer look at the IECEx system's unique approach.

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The IECEx system has set itself the task to harmonize the guidelines of explosion protection around the world.
The IECEx system has set itself the task to harmonize the guidelines of explosion protection around the world.
(Picture: © Anton Balazh -

It is no coincidence that the IECEx system is headquartered in Australia: in a manner of speaking, Down Under is the promised land of the initiative, since IECEx certificates have been legally recognised there and in neighbouring New Zealand for some time now. In both countries, devices with the IECEx logo can be used in hazardous areas without any further tests or approvals.

More–over, IECEx–certified service providers are officially authorised to carry out maintenance and repairs of these components and systems. This works just fine and according to the state of the art — nobody feels the need for additional local inspections and approvals. However, it seems like this exemplary arrangement needs to shine a little longer until the practice gains a greater foothold: other countries of the world, especially the major economies, keep insisting on their established regional or national certificates.

Just as Good, or Even Better?

The IECEx system for safety in explosion protection was initiated by the International Electrotechnical Commission. It strictly relies on the international standards laid down by this non–profit organisation, which was established more than 100 years ago. It is universally acknowledged that the IECEx system ensures the highest standards for the protection of equipment, plants, local operators, and the neighbouring population. Long–established structures, however, are persistent, as evidenced by the national and regional explosion protection regulations that coexisted even before the IECEx system was created — even though they were in effect very similar, if not identical.

From a technical viewpoint, it is obviously hardly necessary to design key features of a device differently to gain Atex approval in Europe on the one hand and a UL or FM certification in North America on the other. On top of that, Europe has now actually demonstrated that substantial obstacles to standardisation and consolidation are far and few between — after all, Atex has successfully integrated the national explosion protection domains.

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When the IECEx system was conceived in the mid–1990s, it was supposed to follow in these footsteps, albeit on a larger, global scale. The system's current, fully developed scope, however, has only been achieved after approximately ten years of ongoing development. One might say the endeavour turned out to be a case of “Thinking Big”: as the goal was a new, globally uniform explosion protection system, its proponents seized upon the opportunity to pursue safety from a far more comprehensive perspective than existing systems.