Lighting in explosive atmospheres: health and safety regulations
Certain activities in many modern industries and manufacturing plants create what is known as an explosive atmosphere, internationally abbreviated as ATEX.
Conventional lights can be the source of a spark, electrostatic discharge or similar which causes an instantaneous deflagration. Proper lighting enables workers to do their jobs correctly but must be selected based on setting-specific requirements and temperature. Hence, European regulations set out a series of mandatory measures to prevent harm to workers and facilities in ATEX zones.
This article addresses...
- WHAT IS AN EXPLOSIVE ATMOSPHERE?
- CLASSIFYING EXPLOSIVE ATMOSPHERES
- ATEX REGULATIONS
- ATEX LIGHTING
ATEX lighting fixtures meet these requirements and can be adapted to environments with gas and dust. Their very high efficiency generates maximum energy savings and means they are also suitable for smaller spaces.
What is an explosive atmosphere?
You might think that explosive atmospheres are only an issue in industries working with dangerous products such as fuels, explosives, hydrocarbons, etc. However, the manufacturing processes in the farming sector, specialist paint workshops and pharmaceutical labs also constitute a high risk.
Dangerous substances are moved around in an ATEX zone and these are often an explosion hazard. Suitable measures must therefore be taken to protect workers and facilities during the manufacturing, transportation and storage of these products.
An explosive atmosphere in this case is a mix of air and flammable substances in the form of fumes, mist or dust. Any ignition source can cause combustion that propagates through the atmosphere leading to an explosion and flames that spread rapidly. Various regulations are in place which stipulate special precautions to protect worker health and safety and avoid the risks inherent in explosive atmospheres.
ATEX zones include the following:
- Farming industry (fertilisers)
- Timber industry (sawdust and wood shavings)
- Specialist paint workshops
- Petrochemical industry
- Plastic processing industry
- Chemical industry
- Pharmaceutical labs
- Textile industry (fibres)
- Metal industries (aluminium, iron, etc.)
- Grain silos
- Flour industry
- Graphics industry (solvents)
Analysing ATEX zones and managing the risks involved is no easy task. Businesses must implement control measures to ensure maximum safety and prevent an explosion and its consequences, which can be very serious indeed. Decision-making must therefore be informed by experts who can guide businesses in their compliance with the law.
Classifying explosive atmospheres
ATEX zones are strictly classified in the regulations governing such spaces, which consider the time factor and the existence of flammable products:
- Zone 0. Typically the origin of the dangerous substance and almost always a high explosion risk.
- Zone 1. Usually the area adjacent to zone 0. It is slightly further away from the source and under normal conditions could be a potentially explosive atmosphere.
- Zone 2. Much further from the origin of the fumes. Explosions are rare, and if one were to occur it would die down immediately.
The primary objective of the regulations is to prevent an explosion that harms either people or resources. The mix of oxygen and the flammable substance in the atmosphere must be controlled, though this is not easy, since there are always environmental risk factors when storing flammable products. Poorly chosen lighting can constitute a danger.
ATEX regulations stem from three EU directives which set out the rules for working in these spaces and how to fit out work areas with a high explosion risk. The main legislation in Spain is as follows:
- Royal Decree 400/1996 on equipment and various protection systems for use in potentially explosive atmospheres.
- Royal Decree 681/2003 on health and safety for workers exposed to the risks of an explosive atmosphere.
- Act 31/1995 on Workplace Risk Prevention covers safeguards and accountability to protect occupational health.
Businesses must ensure worker safety and provide adequate working conditions at all times. Explosions must be prevented; everyone must be protected.
ATEX zones have a high impact on how workers do their jobs. Correct workplace lighting is obviously essential, but the wrong choice of light fixtures can create an ignition source in an explosive atmosphere.
A series of specific requirements governs the lighting used in these zones, including specially designed roof and wall fixtures. All such lights must be manufactured from high quality materials, including a reinforced aluminium and safety glass structure that provides wide ranging functionality while meeting all inspection and audit criteria.
SECOM’s ATEX lighting is specifically designed for explosive atmospheres and meets the ATEX Directive 2014/34/EU. Our lighting system is suitable for the chemical industry as well as landfills, energy companies, wastewater treatment plants, gas suppliers, paint and enamelling workshops, farming facilities, sawmills, refineries and more.
The protocol for ATEX lighting is much more complex than for other commercially available lighting systems. Among other things, a competent body must approve the assembly of a working prototype. Manufacturers, including SECOM, must pass a series of rigorous certification tests if they want to supply ATEX lighting.
In short, ATEX zones require specific lighting solutions. SECOM supplies ATEX lighting in accordance with current regulations to guarantee safety and adequate lighting, and in turn minimise workplace risk.
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