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Intrinsically safe standard changes and harmonization

A number of revisions have been made to the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) standards relating to intrinsically safe (IS) equipment. These changes impact new IS products and are important to be aware of when purchasing and using IS personal protective equipment (PPE). Related to this is the process of harmonization and how it can affect product development for manufacturers of PPE.

Three key changes to intrinsically safe standards

  1. Harmonization of CSA and UL standards to the global ATEX (atmosphères explosibles, French for explosive atmospheres) directive’s IS requirements. This harmonization for new products went into effect on April 20, 2016.
  2. Requirements on how batteries are addressed in the standards.
  3. IS standards like IEC 60079 include new surface conductivity requirements. These changes make compliance to existing conditional standards a more difficult balance of physical product properties.

How harmonization works

Different governing bodies and test agencies wrote slightly differing standards and test methods for intrinsic safety. For instance, CSA created C22.2, UL created UL913 and ATEX created ATEX 2014/34/EU, along with the IEC standards. Recently, each of these agencies (CSA, UL and ATEX) have worked to harmonize their IR standards around the latest IEC 60079 edition.

Harmonization has simplified understanding IS in the sense that all standards are now unified. For example, if a product meets IEC 60079, the product now also meets other agency standards. Some national differences still exist but harmonization is the trend.

Although harmonization has occurred for the three noted main intrinsic safety standards, batteries are an exception. Batteries still must adhere to standards like IEC 62133, UL 2054 and UN 38.3 and should be considered in product design.

Impact of harmonization on IS manufacturers and product users

Harmonization has created a new level of convenience for multi-national customers who can now order one product harmonized to the same intrinsic safety standard, rather than different products that are dependent on the country that they are used in. The harmonization also meets the latest safety standard so users can be assured that current testing methods with the latest technology has been used.

Potential differences exist in other safety requirements dependent on the product type. For example, there are differences between CE and NIOSH for respiratory certifications and gas detection equipment that requires different markings for different countries or regions.

Global manufacturers of PPE are expected to take all standards into consideration. With global harmonization to the ATEX Directive (2014/34/EU), the process for manufacturers to certify their products as IS will become more streamlined; however, testing requirements are more stringent than required by previous products.

It is important to note that IS standards are written such that products that were approved under an older version are grandfathered in as still being approved – as long as these products have not undergone any substantial changes in construction. If a worker is using a product that was approved under an older edition of IEC 60079, that product can still be used by the worker and sold by the manufacturer as intrinsically safe as long as the construction hasn’t changed. New products that are produced under the new harmonization standards can be sold and used in multiple jurisdictions and may also have features and benefits that older products under the older standards do not have.

How PPE will be affected by these changes

Current manufacturing standards for batteries dictates that manufacturers must either create a battery that is intrinsically safe on its own (which can sacrifice performance and run time), or build a battery that requires a mechanical attachment that makes it hard to remove while in use, in order to protect users when they are using the battery in an IS environment.

In the case of the mechanical battery attachment, manufacturers may use attachment tools that help prevent the removal of a battery in an IS environment since this is the intent of the standard. This may change battery design slightly, but it ultimately helps ensure that a battery can’t be easily removed in an IS environment that could potentially cause a fire or explosion.

Producing new IS products that meet the recent standard has become harder to do. Finding plastics and other materials that meet the new requirement while also maintaining compliance to the existing conditioning standards can be difficult.

If you have any questions about intrinsically safe PPE, please call the 3M Canada Safety Centre in Brockville, Ontario, at 1-800-267-4414. You can also learn more about 3M’s brand new class 1 div 1 intrinsically safe powered and supplied air respirator on Town Square, Personal protection that helps minimize the risk of fire or explosion.

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