The Explosive Truth: Unpacking the importance of ATEX certification.

I write a lot in my blog about how to optimize or improve different processes or perform specific tasks , but today I’d like to talk about the equipment used and, in particular, some of the regulations and safety features that are indispensable for specific businesses. Beyond finding the best instrument for a particular task, certain industries must also ensure that the equipment they use is safe in the environment where the equipment is being used. Offshore platforms, petrochemical plants, alcohol distilleries, mines, and flour mills have a high risk of explosion, amongst other dangers. In such environments, the equipment used needs to be manufactured in such a way that risk is eliminated. ATEX is a set of European Union regulations designed to ensure the safety of products being used in potentially explosive atmospheres and is the main focus of this blog. There’s plenty to know and a lot of interesting facts, so I’ll try my best not to blow your mind.

On a recent hiking and camping trip with friends, our low-cost portable gas cooker, which was already a few years old and had worn-out seals, developed a gas leak while we were preparing dinner. Fortunately, we heard and smelt the gas escaping and promptly turned it off, avoiding a catastrophe. As the gas canister was relatively small and we were outdoors, the overall risk was reduced; however, such situations can escalate into significant disasters in high-risk environments. Tragically, there have been many incidences whereby poor-quality materials or poor design have caused a disaster. Just search ‘deflagration event at a flour mill’, and you will see the devastation a mere spark in the wrong environment can cause. The risk of explosions in such environments led to the creation of the ATEX directives. These are a set of EU directives outlining the safety requirements for equipment intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres.

“ATEX is a set of EU directives outlining the safety requirements for equipment intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres.”

One notable example of a disaster related to explosive atmospheres is the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988. Piper Alpha was an oil platform in the North Sea, and a gas leak led to a catastrophic explosion that resulted in 167 fatalities. The incident predated the ATEX directives and profoundly impacted safety regulations and standards worldwide. Today, the Piper Alpha disaster serves as a stark reminder of the critical importance of rigorous safety measures and regulations like ATEX. It underscores the necessity of developing and implementing strict safety procedures and the use of certified equipment designed to prevent such devastating incidents. It is also worth noting that non-compliance can lead to substantial legal and financial penalties; therefore, companies operating in environments with potentially explosive atmospheres must ensure compliance with the relevant regulations and standards.

In the world of laboratory safety, the ATEX directives are of critical importance, especially for potentially explosive atmospheres where “a mixture of air, gases, vapors, mists, or dust combine in a way that can ignite under certain operating conditions”. There are two directives – one for equipment manufacturers (ATEX 2014/34/EU) and one for equipment users (ATEX 1999/92/EC). ATEX-rated equipment carries a specific marking that includes an ‘Ex’ symbol and a category that indicates the level of protection and the type of explosive atmosphere it’s rated for (gas or dust). The directives classify potentially explosive atmospheres into zones based on the probability and duration of the occurrence of an explosive atmosphere. More information about the specific zones and categories can be found here . Although people often associate ATEX with electrical equipment, it also covers mechanical equipment that could cause ignition. Many laboratories deal with volatile or flammable chemicals, and often work is done in potentially explosive atmospheres. Pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing companies often handle reactive substances – as do food and feed companies and research labs. Such companies require their laboratory equipment to be explosion-proof; therefore, specialized ex-proof versions of laboratory equipment, such as rotary evaporators and NIR spectroscopy instruments, have been manufactured to ensure the safety of people and the environment.

Ex-proof versions of laboratory equipment , such as rotary evaporators and NIR spectroscopy instruments, have been manufactured to ensure the safety of people and the environment.”

The importance of using ex-proof equipment in the lab cannot be overstated. Such equipment has been specially designed to eliminate potential sources of ignition by using rigid enclosures or encapsulating or embedding at-risk parts into a sealing compound with sufficient resistance. Even the design of internal circuits is intrinsically safe due to restrictions on current and voltage which are kept below a critical threshold. These safety features are essential for laboratories that often use and store gases, chemicals, and other substances that can form explosive mixtures under the right conditions. Using such equipment can significantly mitigate the risk of a catastrophic explosion and ensure the safety of people and the environment. It should be noted, however, that it is not enough to have ex-proof equipment; workers also need to be trained in the use of such equipment, as human error can also lead to dangerous situations. Stay safe!

Till next time,

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