Safety Technology Know-How Creates Safety: From Mobile Solutions to Ex-Zone Harmonization

Editor: Anke Geipel-Kern

The R. Stahl Expert Forum welcomed its participants with a vast wealth of information about guidelines and standards, as well as offering plenty of hands-on knowledge as well — So which sets of technical rules are used as the basis for a hazard assessment? How do you assess the risk posed by a cellphone or by a smart watch with integrated heart rate monitor? And which rules apply in North America? As all-rounders, safety experts need to have the answers to many different questions at their fingertips. We have summarized all their answers for you in this article.

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Safety experts always need to keep up to date with the latest developments.
Safety experts always need to keep up to date with the latest developments.
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IECEx, Atex, NEC, CEC, TGRS, DIN EN, Functional Safety, Machinery Directive — even experts can find it difficult to keep an overview of all the different Ex-protection and safety guidelines, laws, directives and standards. No surprise then that it was precisely these topics that were covered by so many of the presentations at the Expert Forum hosted by explosion protection specialist R. Stahl.

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As manufacturers, the experts from Waldenburg/Germany are involved in all relevant standardization bodies and support the efforts to create internationally harmonized IECEx standards under the umbrella of the IEC. None more so than Head of Technology Dr. Thorsten Arnhold, who has been a force behind standardization work during two periods as Chairman of the IECEx and is an impassioned advocate of the IECEx scheme.

The facts and figures he presented speak a clear language. 35 countries are members of the IECEx, there are 60 certification bodies, 70 test laboratories and 88,985 certificates of conformity and test reports for equipment. Arnhold believes that manufacturers and operators alike both stand to gain from the work of the IECEx.

While for manufacturers among other things the costs and effort of multiple international registrations are reduced, for operators running sites in different countries the availability and interchangeability of products for use in potentially explosive environments are increased — and this worldwide.

Safety Technology in North America — a Comparison to the Rest of the World

Quite how important it still remains to create internationally harmonized standards will be confirmed by every operator at the latest when it comes to operating or building a new production facility in North America. Despite all the best efforts, the authorities here still apply a strict “America first” policy. The National Electrical Code (NEC) applies in the USA to all electrical equipment and systems that are used in industrial premises containing potentially explosive environments.

Wolfgang Berner, Vice President Canada and North America at R. Stahl, brought along plenty of examples to the Expert Forum that underlined this point. This starts with electrical installations, where unfamiliar measuring units and peculiar connector sizes make life difficult for European measurement, instrumentation and control engineers, and it by no means ends with the zone classifications.

Anyone who intends to install electrical equipment in an Ex-proof zone in accordance with the applicable legal requirements will be faced with a multitude of national laws, fire codes, electrical guidelines, product standards and approval bodies. The latter in particular can in some cases become a real challenge, because depending on the US state, the responsible body may be a national authority or a body at county or local authority level — all with gradually decreasing levels of expertise. The historically established divisions system for the classification of potentially explosive environments also takes some getting used to. By contrast, the familiar zone system from Europe is rarely applied in North America.

Risk Assessments for Mobile Devices

One perennial issue is the topic of risk assessments as a basis for explosion protection concepts. Legal rulings can be found in the Ordinance on Hazardous Substances and the Industrial Safety Regulations, and here specifically in the corresponding technical rules (Technical Rules for Hazardous Substances/TRGS or Technical Rules on Operational Safety/TRBS). In both areas there have been a number of new editions in recent years. For example TRBS 1201-1, which defines testing for installations in Ex-protection areas and e.g. the required qualifications for testing personnel in this context.

Dr. Volker Diers, Ex-protection expert at BASF, sees TRGS 725 as potentially troublesome. Its updated version has been out since December 2018 and evidently throws up a number of questions for operators. At its core, the technical rule sets out the requirements that need to be defined for measurement, instrumentation and control equipment as part of the risk assessment. Since measurement, instrumentation and control equipment is used on a great number of technical installations as a supplementary measure for explosion protection, this is a real topic that reaches across multiple different disciplines.