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International standards-based approach to mitigating risk in explosive atmospheres
3D rendering of the explosion that devastated much of Beirut's port on 4 August 2020

Around the world, industrial accidents involving explosions cause devastation. They take lives, damage property, infrastructure, affect economies and have a long-term impact on the environment.

Underground mines, offshore rigs and chemical plants are obvious examples, but explosions can happen wherever enough flammable liquids, vapours, gases or combustible dusts could start a fire or explosion, such as warehouses, grain storage silos, gas stations or sugar refineries.

A recent example of this occurred in August 2020. A fire at a warehouse in the port of Beirut, Lebanon caused ammonium nitrate, which was not stored safely, to explode. The blast flattened most of the port and damaged many buildings across the city. Around 5000 injuries were reported, over 200 deaths and thousands were left homeless.

The need for a common framework

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) promotes sustainable development and economic prosperity through cooperation among its Member States.

Its Working Party for Regulatory Cooperation and Standardization Policies, together with IEC and IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, developed a Common Regulatory Objective (CRO) model for legislation in the sector of equipment used in environments with an explosive atmosphere in 2011.

It was important to establish a global approach for a global industry, to increase the safety of workers and communities that may be exposed to such explosions.

IECEx assesses conformity to International Standards such as the IEC 60079 developed by IEC Technical Committee 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres and the ISO 80079 series. The standards identify explosive locations, classify the hazards, and design of equipment for safe use in such locations.

“While international standards set out “standardized technical requirements” assurance that these Standards are actually met is demanded by all sectors of the community.  IECEx through its centralized and publicly accessible “online certificate system” provides that assurance”, said Chris Agius, Executive Secretary of IECEx.

The benefits of the CRO

Any UN Member State that does not have a regulatory framework in the explosive equipment sector may use the model as an outline for legislation. However, the CRO can also be used by countries to align their existing national regulations with an internationally harmonized best practice.

The CROs are drawn up with reference to international standards and conformity assessment procedures developed by IEC and ISO and to best practices in the assessment of conformity to such standards, within IECEx. In short, use of International Standards supported by IECEx certification is considered the world’s best practice.

Many UN Members States are also IEC members and use IEC International Standards and Conformity Assessment Systems.

What does the CRO cover?

The CROs address the requirements both for electrical and mechanical equipment being placed on the market and for the safe installation and use of the equipment in the workplace.

It is based on the life-cycle approach, which requires proper inspection, maintenance and repair of explosion protected equipment, to give confidence that activities and processes involving or where flammable or combustible materials maybe present can continue safely.

National vs global

If countries use national regulations to test and certify equipment that is sold worldwide, it means that manufacturers may have to repeat testing and conformity assessment for each market.

Requirements may differ from country to country, without necessarily ensuring better safety for workers and product end-users, while workers who move to different locations may not be familiar with diverse local safety procedures.

An internationally recognized certification scheme, such as IECEx, helps to reduce unnecessary costs resulting from duplication of testing and assessment and provides best practices for safety no matter where the equipment, facility or personnel are located.

Find out more about IECEx

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