Safety engineering in potentially explosive atmospheres
Certain industrial environments pose an increased risk of fire and explosion, due to the use of flammable gases, vapors or combustible dusts. These potentially hazardous environments, also known as “Ex areas” (short for explosive areas), are found in a range of industries, including oil and gas refineries and distribution facilities, chemical processing plants, grain and agricultural handling, processing and storage facilities, underground mines, and even hospital operating environments. The term ‘ATEX’ comes from the French name for the 2003 directive: les appareils et les systèmes de protection destinés à être utilisés en ATmosphères EXplosibles (explosive atmospheres). It covers both machinery or equipment that is destined to be used in these environments, and rules for managing the general environment in such workplaces.
Equipment used in these hazardous environments must therefore be expressly designed to minimize such risks, and manufacturers of electrical, non-electrical, electronic, mechanical equipment and systems must ensure that their products meet the enhanced requirements of applicable regulations and standards.
In the European Union (EU), compliance with the essential requirements of EU Directive 2014/34/EU, also known as the ATEX Directive, is required for equipment used in potentially explosive environments. In other markets, the voluntary IECEx Equipment Certification Scheme can facilitate acceptance of such equipment. Although similar in scope and intent, the ATEX Directive and the IECEx Scheme encompass different requirements and utilize different assessment approaches, complicating the regulatory approval process for equipment manufacturers.
Under the provisions of the ATEX Directive, evidence of compliance is generally demonstrated by the issuance of a manufacturer’s, or supplier’s, Declaration of Conformity, based on an independent technical assessment. Special requirements apply to electrical products intended for use in high risk areas. The task of demonstrating compliance with the ATEX Directive rests with the party responsible for introducing a product into the EU marketplace. The responsible party is typically the product manufacturer, but it may also be an importer or wholesaler.
Examples of actions and reactions that can serve as an ignition source:
If you manufacture or sell equipment and systems of this nature, TÜV SÜD can ensure you conform to the relevant ATEX Directives and entitle you to feature the CE mark.
Equipment, components and protective systems in a potentially explosive environment can only be placed on the market if essential health and safety requirements according to the ATEX Directive 2014/34/EU have been met, and the required conformity assessment procedures for your category of equipment have been successfully completed.
Annex II of the Directive addresses design and construction requirements for equipment and protective systems, whereas the specific technical requirements for various types of equipment and operating environments are found in individual harmonized standards. Compliance with the technical requirements in these standards serves as the primary basis for ATEX certification.
Depending on the equipment and its intended use, more than one harmonized standard may be applicable to the evaluation and certification of a product. Currently, nearly 100 individual harmonized standards can be used to demonstrate compliance with the essential requirements of the Directive. Updated harmonized standards lists are published periodically in the Official Journal of the European Union. In the absence of a harmonized standard for a specific equipment or application, the technical requirements of national or international standards may be applied. For non-electrical and electrical products, Annex I of the ATEX Directive identifies three separate categories of equipment, with Category 1 and Category 2 applicable to equipment used in higher risk areas, and Category 3 applicable to equipment used in low risk areas.
Manufacturers of electrical equipment of Category 1 and Category 2 are required to have their products tested and certified by an EU Notified Body, and should also present evidence of maintaining a quality system certified by a Notified Body. Category 2 non-electrical equipment does not require a Notified Body assessment, but does require the technical documentation to be stored by an ATEX Notified Body. The quality system for Category 2 non-electrical and all Category 3 equipment is the sole responsibility of the manufacturer.
Learn about the implications to manufacturers within and external to the UK.
Learn about the technical requirements of the ATEX Directive and the IECEx Scheme.
ATEX 2014/34/EU is a uniquely European Union directive for protection against explosive atmospheres
Learn more about the IECEx System with our handy infographic
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