31 October 2019

The importance of ATEX

Sadly, you don’t have to look far to find proof of how vital ATEX regulations are to modern-day industry. As the two European Directives that govern the management of explosive atmospheres, ATEX covers the minimum requirements for improving the health and safety protection of workers, as well as the equipment and protective systems used in such environments.

Earlier this year in Stamford, Connecticut, exothermic dust caused an explosion at a wastewater plant, injuring three workers. Closer to home, Spanish-owned Celsa Steel has just been fined £1.8 million after a blast caused by a failed safety mechanism killed two workers and injured five others at its Cardiff-based plant in 2015. The firm pleaded guilty to failing to make suitable and sufficient assessment of risks under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

ATEX exists to minimise the risks posed by working in these kinds of potentially explosive atmospheres, making it an essential safety measure.

What makes an atmosphere explosive?

ATEX is part of the wider Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR). Under DSEAR, an explosive atmosphere is defined as “a mixture of dangerous substances with air, under atmospheric conditions, in the form of gases, vapours, mist or dust in which, after ignition has occurred, combustion spreads to the entire unburned mixture” (hse.gov.uk).

Further to this, atmospheric conditions are generally thought of as “temperatures of –20°C to 40°C and pressures of 0.8 to 1.1 bar”. There are many industries that create atmospheres such as this, including that of bulk logistics. Specialist sector areas like oil and gas, chemical logistics and waste logistics all involve activities that produce flammable and explosive working environments, thanks to their proximity to petrol, LPG, solvents, liquid waste and dust.

What are a business’s responsibilities when it comes to ATEX?

All organisations whose operations could create explosive atmospheres must eliminate or control the risks. This requires a detailed ATEX risk assessment, which should include:

-          Identifying work areas where hazardous dangerous explosive substances are used, stored and handled

-          Considering whether the dangerous substance could be released

-          Considering whether there are any ignition sources present

-          Assessing the impact of a fire or explosion

In areas where potentially explosive atmospheres are identified, employers must specify the level of risk by assigning each area a zone classification, based on the how likely an accident could be, how often the explosive atmosphere is present and how long any reaction would last if it was to occur. For example, one of the most dangerous zoning classifications is Zone 0, which refers specifically to gases, vapours and mists directly relevant to oil and gas platforms, drilling rigs and storage facilities. Zone 0 signifies an area in which an explosive atmosphere, consisting of dangerous substances in the form of gas, vapour or mist mixed with air, is present continuously, for long periods or frequently. There’s more information on ATEX zoning on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website.

Zoned areas should be clearly denoted with official signage and any workers required to enter and/or work in these areas must be trained to do so safely. Before any work takes place there for the first time, each zoned area must be independently verified as safe by an individual or organisation qualified to assess the standard of the ATEX measure put in place. You must also provide workers with suitable anti-static clothing when entering zoned areas, such as anti-static footwear. Whatever ATEX procedures you put in place, you should record your measures in an Explosion Protection Document (EPD).

How can a bulk logistics optimisation solution support ATEX?

Workers and drivers operating in the field need digital backup, even in potentially explosive atmospheres. In the same way that you can’t use your mobile phone while refilling your car at a petrol station, standard mobile devices cannot be used in ATEX zoned areas. ATEX applies to any equipment intended for use in explosive atmospheres, electrical or mechanical, which includes in-vehicle mobile computers.    At Touchstar, we provide a range of ATEX certified mobile computers to our bulk logistics customers, ensuring their operations remain legally-compliant and as safe as possible, while also enabling their teams to stay connected to base. With ATEX certified mobile devices, you and your drivers and operatives benefit from all the productivity-boosting features of a digital management system, even in hazardous working environments, without the risk. Want to know more about our ATEX certified mobile computers for bulk logistics? Get in touch with us today. 

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