Potentially explosive atmosphere product certification
Understanding regional requirements for global market access for electrical equipment in potentially explosive environments is critical.
Electrical equipment intended to be used in potentially explosive atmospheres must be assessed to higher safety standards given the nature of the settings where they will be used. Explosive atmospheres (also referred to as hazardous locations or hazardous areas) include oil rigs, mines, chemical plants, paint booths and other locations where one might find a mixture of gases, vapors, mist, dust or fibers that may ignite and have combustion spread. Depending on the market, the requirements for certification and marking can vary. It is important for manufacturers to know and understand the requirements for a given market, as well as the global requirements for these products.
Global certification requirement – IECEx
The International Electrotechnical Commission System (IECEx) scheme is an international certification for explosive atmospheres that applies to all continents. It commonly requires that electrical equipment demonstrate conformity to the IEC 60079 series standards. Because it is a global scheme accepted by many countries, IECEx can be thought of as a “passport” for products to get to global markets. It can and will get manufacturers access to multiple markets. However, just as some countries require a visa in addition to a passport for entry, in some regions, products may be subject to additional requirements and markings to fully access the market. These are needed in addition to IECEx certification.
North American certification approvals – AEx, class/division, class/zone
In the United States and Canada, IECEx may function as a base level requirement, however, these countries also have additional requirements for certification, installation and markings that are based on the U.S.’s National Electric Code (NEC) and/or the Canadian Electrical Code with associated unclassified and hazardous locations standards that may also be harmonized with IEC standards. Products must be assessed and certified by an OSHA Nationally recognized lab (in the U.S.) or a testing lab and certification body approved by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). In many cases, labs in the region are accredited to both and can certify products for either market using their certification marks, such as Intertek’s ETL mark.
European Union – ATEX
Any manufacturer producing electrical equipment intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres in the EU must comply with ATEX Directive 2014/34/EU. Such products must bear the ATEX mark (an “Ex” in a hexagon) as well as CE marking before being sold in the EU. This is achieved by evaluating and testing to EN standards independently or in conjunction with IECEx certification if needed. Products must be assessed, documented and certified by an ATEX Notified Body for entry to the EU market.
United Kingdom – UKEX
Following Brexit, the UK has pivoted to its own marking system: UKCA for Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), which includes UKCA Ex (UKEX) marking requirements for products used in explosive atmospheres. This replaces ATEX in Great Britain, though the requirements for UKEX are similar to those in the ATEX directive. A UK approved body must assess and certify products under the UKEX scheme.
Many manufacturers seek global market access with their products. In the case of products and systems used in explosive atmospheres, this may require evaluation, documentation and certification to multiple schemes. It is important to know the requirements for a given market. Will IECEx alone suffice? Or are additional assessments and markings required? If additional certification is needed, which ones are relevant, what do they require, and how is compliance illustrated? Familiarizing with the requirements is important for any manufacturer seeking to take their products to a given market.
Perhaps what is more important is to work with a testing and certification body that knows and understands the requirements and can help get manufacturer’s products to market. Many labs hold multiple notified/approved body statuses so finding a lab that can help assess and issue multiple certifications can also help access multiple markets simultaneously.