What is ATEX?
ATEX is the name commonly given to two European Directives (Laws) for controlling explosive atmospheres and it comes from ATmospheres EXplosibles, which is French for explosive atmosphere. An explosive atmosphere, or Hazardous Area as they are most commonly known, is defined as a place where a mixture of dangerous substances with air (gas, vapour, mist or dust) under atmospheric conditions, which when ignited could cause a fire or explosion.
The two Directives are:
1) Directive 94/9/EC (also known as ATEX 95) concerns equipment and protective systems intended for use in potentially explosive. This is for manufacturers of ATEX equipment to allow free trade across EU borders without the need for certification in each country.
2) Directive 99/92/EC (also known as ATEX 137 or the workers protection Directive) concerns the minimum requirements for improving the health and safety protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres. This is the Law that all end users, employers and companies must comply with.
ATEX came into force in 2003 and it places responsibility on employers to eliminate or control the risks arising from potentially explosive atmospheres and to ensure they are safe places of work for employees. Employers must be able to demonstrate that the overall explosion protection safety measures have been considered and implemented and they must be able to provide evidence of this.
To verify compliance, an inspection is required under IEC 60079-17 (The inspections of electrical installations in hazardous area) and we specialise in these inspections, it is the reason Atex Inspections Ltd was setup.
An employers obligations under ATEX 137 are clear:
1) Prevent the formation of explosive atmospheres in the workplace or, avoid the ignition of explosive atmospheres and control the effects of an explosion.
2) Conduct a risk assessment covering the likelihood of explosive atmospheres atmospheres occurring and their persistence, the likelihood of a source of ignition and the effect of ignition on plant, personnel and the environment.
3) Classify the areas where potentially explosive atmospheres may occur into zones and produce hazardous area classification drawings details the zones and their extent. There are 3 ATEX zones.
zone 0 is a place where an explosive atmosphere is present continuously or for long periods
zone 1 is a place where an explosive atmosphere is likely to occur in normal operation
zone 2 is a place where an explosive atmosphere is not likely to occur but if it does it will exist only for a short period
4) Once the zones have been identified, select ATEX compliant equipment suitably for the zone.
5) Institute a safe system of working in hazardous area through a permit to work system
6) Institute hazardous area awareness training for all personnel who work in the hazardous areas including contractors (this is a requirement often overlooked leading to companies actually breaking the Law without knowing it)
7) Providing anti-static clothing to workers
8) Mark hazardous areas with "Ex" warning signs at every entrance (also often overlooked)
9) Maintain an explosion protection document (EPD) and an Ex register which is a detailed database of all installed ATEX equipment.
The EPD should include risk assessment, area classification, the inspection strategy, inspection records, details of staff hazardous area training and the permit to work system.
ATEX 137 states that all necessary measures must be taken to ensure that the workplace, work equipment and any associated connecting devices made available to workers have been designed, constructed, assembled and installed, and are maintained and operated in such a way as to minimise the risk of an explosion.
We know explosions can cause loss of life and serious injury as well as significant and catastrophic damage to plant and the environment and preventing the release of flammable substances and preventing active sources of ignition are two ways of reducing the risk. The correct application of ATEX can greatly reduce this risk and provide for a safer workplace for employees.