All companies which handle potentially explosive or inflammable materials in their facilities must comply with the European ATEX regulation and have an Explosion Protection Document (EPD) in place. But what type of companies and activities does this concern, and how can explosive atmospheres be identified and prevented?
The following guide reviews the main ATEX hazards and their possible corrective measures, as well as the requirements which ensure that this European regulation is adhered to, and the legal implications for business owners.
The three main elements which, in combination, produce a potentially explosive atmosphere are:
Thus, any company or facility which is likely to accumulate these elements is capable of producing ATEX, from small facilities such as sawmills, to large oil rigs.
While some industries could clearly produce explosive atmospheres, such as the chemical industry, companies in the energy sector and waste treatment, or refineries, there is in fact a long list of industries and factories which could require an EPD. This is a general list of sector types and conditions which could require ATEX:
If we work in one of these environments which require an EPD, how do we avoid the creation of an explosive atmosphere? We mentioned above that in order to produce an explosive atmosphere, three elements are required: flammable substances, oxygen and an ignition source. Therefore, eliminating the danger involves getting rid of one of these elements. As it is very difficult to get rid of oxygen in a normal atmosphere (although this can be done) we have the following options:
Health and safety at work is a very important topic in the social and labour policy which the European Union has been exploring in recent years. Although explosions are fortunately not the most frequent cause of accidents at work, their consequences tend to be very important in terms of economic cost and loss of human lives. There are two types of ATEX directives which companies must comply with:
To comply with these directives, companies must carry out an explosion risk assessment, examining first of all whether a dangerous explosive atmosphere could be produced in their facilities.
In cases where there is a risk, each of the affected ATEX zones must be classified in terms of risk level and the type of flammable or explosive material (gases, vapours or dust), and an EPD must be produced. This document will include the conclusions of the risk assessment and the technical and organisational measures to be carried out in order to avoid the risks of explosion, as well as the requirement to use or install ATEX certified machinery.
As we have said, the ATEX assessment of potentially explosive facilities is mandatory in Europe. Large companies often turn to third parties to assess and inspect the facilities and create the Explosion Protection Document (EPD), the document which ensures compliance with the ATEX regulation.
Other companies tend to have limited resources for carrying out this type of inspection or for outsourcing the ATEX assessment, but the size of the company does not exempt it from complying with this regulation. Self-assessment should only be considered if qualified staff is available.
In some cases companies turn to other prevention services, but these services are usually not specialised in ATEX risks. The most reliable option is to go to an external company which has expertise in ATEX risks.
It must be stressed that if a worker is seriously injured, or injuries are caused by company negligence, there is personal liability, not just company liability. Therefore, the company owner can face criminal charges in addition to financial penalties.
Even if no accident occurs, this document can be requested by insurers, as well as for an administrative audit or labour inspection.
There are many workers and business owners who are unaware of the risks and regulations regarding explosive atmospheres and the significant damages which these can cause in terms of workers and economic losses. For this reason, disseminating information regarding ATEX is very important so that all potentially explosive facilities have the appropriate protective measures and equipment in place.
For more information take a look at the services of Applus+ Laboratories in the area of ATEX compliance for facilities and workplaces.