ATEX, IECEx and Co Harmonising the Global Legislation for Explosion Protection

Author / Editor: Dr. Detlev Markus, Dr. Uwe Klausmeyer, Christoph Thust, Dr. Gerold Klotz-Engmann* / Dominik Stephan

The degree of safety in explosion protection has risen constantly in the last 20 years–Initiated by the European Union at the beginning of the 1990s, the Atex guidelines shall now be transported to all regions of the world. With globally harmonised regulations, unified installation safety could be achieved worldwide.

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Explosion protection: In need of harmonization of global standards.
Explosion protection: In need of harmonization of global standards.
(Picture: Sahlmüller/Victoria; Pekchar; vector_master@fotolia.com)

In explosion protection, the advancing globalisation is assuming increasing importance for internationally active businesses. National regulations are a disadvantage, whether for the manufacturers of explosion-protected equipment or for the operators of installations with explosion risk, since they lead to different concepts of safety technology. Further, they hinder the creation of a unified catalogue of scientifically and technically sound measures in explosion protection. T unify standards, the memeber states of the European Union introduced a overriding set of rules as part of a “New Approach“ in the 1990s. Particularly important for explosion protection were the Atex production guideline 94/9/EG and the Atex operational guideline 1999/92/EG. These “Atmosphère Explosibles“ guidelines include the introduction of explosion-protected equipment as well as the protection of workers in hazardous areas.

Whereas explosion protection was treated holistically in Germany until the introduction of these guidelines, the new approach involved separate consideration of products and operations. The aim of the “New Approach“ was to enable a free flow of goods within the European internal market by means of a unified conformity assessment process.

Better Safe than Sorry: Achieving an Security Certification

Before introducing a product, a manufacturer must ensure that the product conforms with the fundamental requirements for health and safety in the relevant guideline. He confirms this conformity by issuing a declaration of EG conformity and by fixing a CE label on the device. For explosion-protected devices in categories 1 and 2, the involvement of a body (Atex Notified Body) named according to EU guideline 94/9/EG (after 2016: 2014/34/EU) is necessary for the issue of the certificate of conformity.

After a successful type check, the conformity of the product is confirmed by the issue of an EG type examination certificate, usually on the basis of requirements from harmonized CEN or CENELEC norms. The introduction of the Atex product guideline has led to a great number of innovative products by defining a general protection aim (“the device shall not have any potential ignition sources“).

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Harmonised Worldwide: IECEx Shall Unite regional Safety Standards

Following the introduction of the international IECEx system, manufacturers can since 2003, have an “IECEx Certificate of Conformity“ issued for his product. The basis for this is conformity with the norm group IEC 60079-0 and following. On the basis of the IECEx test reports and mutual recognition, the test centres involved worldwide can issue national certificates, even if national divergences from the IEC norms make additional tests necessary. By eliminating a further test, it could be possible, with this first step, to lower trade barriers and to advance international trade in explosion-protected electrical devices.

Since the relevant product norms for explosion-protected devices are almost identical in both IEC and CENELEC, the European named bodies involved can issue both Atex and IECEx certificates at the same time.

Hazard Assessment – Past and Present

Up until 2002, explosion risks in Germany were assessed according to regulations specific to the installation or device. Examples of this are the regulations for inflammable liquids (VbF) or the regulations for electrical installations in explosion-risk areas (ElexV).

The adoption of the Atex operational guideline 1999/92/EG as national legislation in the form of the operational safety regulations (BetrSichV) reinforced on the one hand the personal responsibility of the employer by the possibility of a hazard-related approach, while on the other hand imposing the obligation of more consistent documentation of hazard assessment and of the protection concepts in the explosion protection documentation. All hazards which can arise from working equipment are assessed and eliminated by appropriate protection concepts. This hazard-related approach must be based on the latest relevant technology.

The “technical rules for operational safety“ (TRBS) or other relevant information sources such as EN or IEC norms provide information about the latest relevant technology in the installation and use of working equipment and thus simplify the determination of suitable measures for the protection of workers. The employer can also, however, achieve the protection aims of the regulations by following other paths involving equivalent safety technology.

Personal Responsibility – Explosion Protection Starts at Home

Explosion-protected working equipment must of course also be tested regularly. While the ElexV allows e.g. not only testing at fixed intervals but also “continuous monitoring of electrical installations“ without concretely testing, today the employer can determine himself the kind and extent of the tests and also the interval of time between two successive tests within three years. The tests are carried out by authorised persons as defined by the operational safety regulations (BetrSichV). They are named by the employer or by “approved monitoring bodies“ (ZÜS).

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Since the BetrSichV came into force, the employer has been taking greater personal responsibility for safety. Revision and amendment of this set of rules is due to start soon, with the BetrSichV to be replaced by the “regulations for safety and health protection during the use of working equipment and the operation of installations“. While this puts more emphasis on obligations for the testing of working equipment, the requirements for the explosion protection document will in future be dealt with in the regulations for handling hazardous materials.

Overcoming Trade Barriers: International Explosion Protection Standards

During the last 20 years, there have been advances in dismantling trade barriers and also in a step-by-step harmonisation of operational safety regulations. Despite this development, the number of national explosion certificates worldwide has increased. While it was possible to market goods in many lands of the world with e.g. an Atex certificate in the past, a producer today must obtain as many as ten different explosion certificates for international sales.2832

In Europe, an Atex certificate is required, but in North America a certificate according to the American National Electrical Code (NEC) or the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC) respectively is required. Other countries, such as Russia, China, India, Japan or Australia, likewise require their own explosion certificates.

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Decisive Steps Towards Harmonisation of Safety Standards

“Decisive developments for the future are therefore the first steps being taken by the United Nations (UN/ECE) in Geneva towards harmonisation of national legislations for types, market introduction, and operation of explosion-protected devices,“ explains Gerold Klotz-Engmann, in charge of international product and installation safety at Endress+Hauser. The focus here is on norming according to IEC and ISO.

The new Atex guideline 2014/34/EU in the “New Legislative Framework (NLF)“ as a replacement for the EU guideline 94/9/EG is more clearly based on international rules, e.g. regarding conformity assessment procedure for recognition of conformity assessment bodies. The regulations to replace the BetrSichV will attempt to further reinforce the personal responsibility of the employer and put increasing emphasis on the use of technical regulations and the significance of norming documents.

Experience Essential

What does this mean in practice and precise terms for the firms affected? The constantly changing and complex landscape of laws and regulations in the area of explosion protection raises many questions regarding legal, technical and organisational responsibilities. These include e.g. subjects such as ignition source analysis and assessment, hazard assessment, zone classification, correct production of the explosion protection document and also adequate test and maintenance concepts for explosion hazard installations. On top of this come fundamental questions regarding interaction with other firms, installations with monitoring requirements, and the naming of “authorised persons“ in explosion protection.

“Only by means of an intensive exchange of experience within the relevant bodies, such as the Namur and the DKE as well as in international mirror committees, will it be possible for the firms involved to keep abreast of the state-of-the-art technologies and, at the same time, to influence further developments in norming and legislation“, says Christoph Thust, in charge of technical installation safety at Evonik Industries.

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Quo Vadis, Explosion Protection?

After 20 years of Atex regulations, the safety standards in place in the member states of the EU are higher than ever before. These achievements, however, can only be the basis for further international harmonisation in order to transport this proven level of safety to all parts of the world. The chances are good that this aim can be achieved via international organisations such as the IEC, IECEx, ISO, the WTO and the UN. The certificates issued by the international IECEx systems, which today has over 30 member countries, have so far received legal recognition only in Australia and New Zealand. Looking into the future, Klotz-Engmann therefore still sees an obvious need for action: “More states must accept these certificates for the market introduction of explosion protected devices in order to enable the international application of explosion protection regulations.“

* * D. Markus and U. Klausmeyer work for the Federal Physical/Technical Institute (PTB), C. Thust works for Evonik Industries AG, and G. Klotz-Engmann works for Endress+Hauser.

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