Imagine that the room you are now in is filled with highly explosive hydrogen gas. Now think about all of the electrical devices in your room – the plugs, lights, wires, etc. One tiny spark and you’re going to be the lead story on the local news.
One tiny spark could lead to one large explosion.
While most work environments aren’t this hazardous, there are many where explosions could occur. That is why companies need to be aware of the European ATEX and North American HAZ-LOC standards, which aim to make sure that equipment in hazardous environments will not lead to a catastrophic explosion.
“The purpose of both ATEX (an abbreviation for the French ‘Atmosphere Explosible’) and HAZ-LOC is to prevent an explosion in any environment that could provide the right conditions for one,” said Greg Salicki, North American program manager for ATEX and HAZ-LOC at TUV Rheinland of North America, a provider of ATEX and HAZ-LOC testing and certification.
“Some environments are self-explanatory such as conditions in the oil and gas industries or petrochemical processing," explained Salicki. "But dust can also be explosive so there is a need for ATEX and HAZ-LOC certification on equipment used in areas such as flour mills or places where they make powders.”
Any industry that utilizes solvents is also required to have ATEX or HAZ-LOC certification. “When you’re dealing with things like plastic processing or injection molding, these regulations come into play,” said Salicki. “Even in the pharmaceutical industry, where solvents are used to break down substances, the situation can become explosive. All too often companies are surprised to learn that they must meet the requirements for these directives.”
Although most U.S. and Canadian manufacturers are familiar with the North American HAZ-LOC requirements, the ATEX directive and requirements still remain a mystery. The ATEX directive, in effect since 2003, requires compliance as European law for all products that are placed on the market in the EU and that will be used in potentially explosive environments.
For North American manufacturers who want to sell their products in the EU, products must be ATEX-compliant before they are physically placed on the market. If not, the manufacturer will be in violation of EU law, and risk fines and black listing as well as other legal remedies.
“ATEX presents manufacturers with many challenges,” Salicki cautioned. “Companies are responsible for determining whether their products will be used in a potentially explosive atmosphere. This may be driven by requirements from end-users or engineering decisions based on the target markets for the product."
"For instance, if a pressure sensor is designed for a gas turbine, odds are that ATEX approval would be required," continued Salicki. "But if an end-user wants a manufacturer to supply a pump system that would be located in a process chamber that will be filled with hydrogen gas, ATEX approval would definitely apply. It’s this lack of clear-cut parameters that makes the regulations confusing.”
According to Salicki it is ultimately the responsibility of the manufacturer to determine if a product needs ATEX approval and what type of classification is required.
“Like HAZ-LOC, ATEX divides products into groups and categories. The first group is only for products that are used in underground mines. The second group is made up of all other products, except for a few exclusions,” said Salicki. “Group two is then divided into three categories, which define three levels of likelihood of an explosion from ‘very likely’ to ‘likely’ to ‘less likely.’”
If a company determines that it needs ATEX certification and already has HAZ-LOC certification, it's not a simple process to just add ATEX, noted Salicki. Although there are similarities between the two classification systems, there is no direct conversion.
“For companies that are looking to certify a product from scratch, I recommend that they consider doing both certifications at the same time because the testing is very similar and that way they can leverage the work to apply to both approvals,” said Salicki. “But if a company already has HAZ-LOC and wants to get ATEX, they have to start the process over from the beginning.”
Salicki also has another bit of advice for companies that think there is a chance their products will need ATEX or HAZ-LOC certification: start designing the products with the standards in mind.
“Because ATEX and HAZ-LOC are so much more complicated than a simple product safety evaluation, it makes sense to integrate the standards into the design process. For example, if you have a transformer and you want it certified for explosive safety, you will need to consider: safety, liability, design analysis, and the testing required by the standard,” Salicki explained.
“The smart solution is to pursue the compliance certification during the design phase. There are significant cost savings to this approach and issues can be caught early on and can be rectified before the product is built, said Salicki. "I’d say 90-percent of the time ATEX or HAZ-LOC will require changes to a product, but if those changes come about during the design phase, they are easier to implement.”
For many companies, this recommendation goes against the way they currently design products. But Salicki said, as with most certifications or regulations, it’s always best to start thinking about designing products to meet the standards instead of trying to modify existing products.
“I often hear from companies that are surprised to find out that they need the HAZ-LOC or ATEX certification. I get a lot of companies that contact me when they have won a contract to supply a major company like ExxonMobil, but then are surprised when they receive a 3,000 page specification manual that outlines all of the standards their products are required to meet. That’s when the scrambling and headaches start while trying to figure out exactly what the end user is requiring,” Salicki says.
Salicki suggested that certification and meeting regulations is key to successfully marketing products in environments where there is an explosive danger. And since these regulations are not going away, it's easier to integrate the certification process into the design process.
TUV Rheinland of North America, Inc.