ATEX regulations are a couple of EU directives that define standards (health and safety requirements and conformity assessment procedures) for any equipment that is intended for use in Hazardous Areas. Here’s all you need to know about these rules.
First of all, what is a Hazardous Area? An environment that consists of any concentrations of flammable gases, vapors, mists or combustible dusts. If these substances come into contact with the oxygen in the air, they can create a potentially explosive atmosphere which, if ignited, may produce an explosion, causing serious damage to people and the environment.
Typical locations of Hazardous Areas are chemical plants, oil refineries, sewerage treatment plants, offshore drilling rigs, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants. But also other kind of sites such as plastics factories, flour mills, food and beverage or recycling plants may be at risk of explosion under certain conditions.
ATEX acronym derives from French “ATmosphères EXplosibles”. The two main ATEX Directions are:
- ATEX Directive 2014/34/EU - which sets out essential safety requirements for products operating in Hazardous Areas.
- ATEX Directive 1999/92/EC - which provides rules for the safety and health of users of the equipment operating in Hazardous Areas.
Let’s see the main characteristics and standards of each one of them.
ATEX Directive 2014/34/EU
ATEX Directive 2014/34/EU deals with equipment and protection systems intended for use in Hazardous Areas. It replaced the previous Directive 94/9/EC and came into force on 20th April 2016.
The Directive directly affects products and manufacturers. Each EU national authority is responsible for implementing its rules (by transposing them into national legislation), as well as for the management of Notified Bodies, organisations that must check products and manufacturers compliance.
Equipment classification: groups and categories
Products intended to use in Hazardous Areas are divided into groups and categories, that determine procedures for their conformity assessment.
Group I: products intended for use in underground mines (locations that require stricter rules). They are divided, depending on the level of protection they guarantee, into two categories:
- M1: very high level of protection;
- M2: high level of protection, the products must be switched off in the presence of gas.
Group II: products intended for use in all other above ground industries. They are divided, depending on the level of protection they guarantee, into three categories:
- Category 1: very high level of protection, must be certified by an Atex Notified Body;
- Category 2: high level of protection, must be certified by an Atex Notified Body (if electrical);
- Category 3: normal level of protection, can be certified by self-declaration with internal manufacturing control.
ATEX CE Marking
All products designed for use in Hazardous Areas must bear a specific ATEX CE marking label, containing all the information necessary to determine possible areas of use. It must contain, in particular:
- Name, registered trade name or registered trade mark of manufacturer
- CE marking: the product complies with all applicable EU Directives;
- Designation of product series or type;
- Ex: specific marking for explosion protection;
- Year of construction;
- Equipment group;
- Equipment category;
- Environment: gas or dusts;
ATEX Directive 1999/92/EC
While Directive 2014/34/EU focuses on products and manufacturers, ATEX Directive 1999/92/EC sets out the responsibilities for the employers, dealing with requirements for ensuring health and safety of workers.
First of all, the employer shall take technical and/or organisational measures appropriate to the nature of the operation, in accordance with the following basic principles:
- the prevention of the formation of explosive atmospheres, or where the nature of the activity does not allow that,
- the avoidance of the ignition of explosive atmospheres, and
- the mitigation of the detrimental effects of an explosion so as to ensure the health and safety of workers.
Then, the employer shall carry out an assessment of explosion risks.
Workers operating in Hazardous Areas need to be appropriately trained and competent. Employers must provide them adequate professional training. According to the Directive:
- work in hazardous areas must be carried out according to written instructions given by the employer;
- a system of work permits is applied for potentially dangerous or occasional activities risks, when they interact with other work operations.
Hazardous Areas are finally classified by Directive into zones:
Zone 0 - A place in which an explosive atmosphere is present continuously, for long periods or frequently, for the presence of gas, vapor or mist;
Zone 1 - A place in which an explosive atmosphere is likely to occur in normal operation occasionally. The cause of the danger is the presence of gas, vapor or mist;
Zone 2 - A place in which an explosive atmosphere is not likely to occur in normal operation but, if it does occur, will persist for a short period only. The cause of the danger is the presence of gas, vapor or mist;
Zone 20 - A place in which an explosive atmosphere is present continuously, for long periods or frequently, for the presence of a cloud of combustible dust.;
Zone 21 - A place in which an explosive atmosphere is likely to occur in normal operation occasionally. The cause of the danger is the presence of a cloud of combustible dust;
Zone 22 - A place in which an explosive atmosphere is not likely to occur in normal operation but, if it does occur, will persist for a short period only. The cause of the danger is the presence of a cloud of combustible dust.
These zones are linked by Directive to equipment categories of 2014/34/EU Directive, creating the basic rule of installation:
- in zone 0 or zone 20, category 1 equipment;
- in zone 1 or zone 21, category 1 or 2 equipment;
- in zone 2 or zone 22, category 1, 2 or 3 equipment.