With the spill of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the world became all too aware of the consequences that safety shortfalls in the offshore industry would have on the environment, people, and property.
Since then the international response has been to further rely upon standards to improve safety and augment technical integrity.
More than ever, oil and gas companies are looking for one harmonized standard to provide greater consistency of safe practices worldwide.
ATEX Directive ensures safety of people and equipment in hazardous locations
One such standard that is generally accepted to be the industry standard for safety is the European Union’s ATEX Directive which stipulates that organizations must protect employees from explosion risk in explosive atmospheres. An explosive atmosphere is defined as a mixture of dangerous substances with air, under atmospheric conditions, in the form of gases, vapours, mist or dust in which, after ignition has occurred, combustion spreads to the entire unburned mixture.
There are two Directives—one for the manufacturer and one for the user. ATEX Directive contains minimum requirements for improving the safety and health protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres. ATEX Directive 2014/34/EU pertains to equipment and protective systems intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres.
ATEX Directive 2014/34/EU Explained
The objective of the Directive is to allow the free movement of ‘ATEX’ goods throughout the European Union by offering one harmonized compliance procedure. Directive 2014/34/EU is also applicable in other areas where an applicable international agreement is in operation.
Considered a “New Approach”, the Directive 2014/34/EU contains specific Essential Health and Safety Requirements (EHSRs) which form the basis of a product conformity assessment procedure that examines the potential ignition sources of equipment intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres. The EHSRs are imperative to ensure explosion-proofing of equipment.
The original Directive regulated only electrical equipment. The 3rd edition of the Directive in effect 2009 regulated electrical as well as non-electrical equipment.
In the ATEX Directive, equipment is divided into two groups. The definitions of the groups are as follows:
- Group I comprises equipment intended for use in the underground parts of mines, and to those parts of surface installations of such mines, likely to become endangered by firedamp and/or combustible dust;
- Group II comprises equipment intended for use in other places likely to become endangered by explosive atmospheres.
The groups are further divided into categories. For Group II, the ATEX Directive defines Category 1 and Category 2 as follows:
Category 1 comprises products designed to be capable of remaining within its operational parameters, stated by the manufacturer, and ensuring a very high level of protection for its intended use in areas in which explosive atmospheres caused by mixtures of air and gases, vapours, mists or air/dusts mixtures are highly likely to occur and are present continuously, for long periods of time or frequently.
- Category 2 comprises products designed to be capable of remaining within their operational parameters, stated by the manufacturer, and based on a high level of protection for their intended use, in areas in which explosive atmospheres caused by mixtures of air and gases, vapours, mists or air/dust mixtures are likely to occur.
- Category 3 comprises products designed to be capable of keeping within its operational parameters, stated by the manufacturer, and based upon a normal level of protection for its intended use, considering areas in which explosive atmospheres caused by mixtures of air and gases, vapours, mists or air/dust mixtures are unlikely to occur and if they do occur, do so infrequently and for a short period of time only.
Group II, Category 1 equipment provides a very high level of protection with two independent means of protection. Group II, Category 2 equipment provides a high level of protection and is suitable for normal operation and frequently occurring disturbances. Group II, Category 3 equipment provides a sufficient level of protection for normal operation.