K Controls ATEX & IECEx Dual Certified Exi Switchbox

ATEX and IECEx dual certified Exi switch box containing two gold contact microswitches

ATEX and IECEx stainless steel dual certified Exi switch box containing four gold contact microswitches
Is specifying “simple apparatus” as simple as it seems?

Using micro switches in intrinsically safe circuits to monitor valve position is common practice. A micro switch is defined as “simple apparatus” so it does not generate or store energy above defined limits. Therefore, if it is incorporated into an intrinsically safe circuit, there will be no unexpected sparking that could cause ignition of a hazardous gas or dust cloud. So far so good, but the switches are of no use on their own. They have to be operated, adjusted, terminated and environmentally protected.

In order for this to happen they usually need to be fitted in a “switch box”. For intrinsically safe applications some switch box suppliers offer their standard noncertified product, complete with “simple apparatus” micro switches. In such cases the safety focus is on the switches and not on the switch box.

Closer examination of the switch box prompts one or more of the following questions to be asked:

• How can the build-up of electro-static charge be avoided on plastic parts that are likely to rubbed or cleaned in service? Is it enough to simply add a label stating “Do not wipe with a dry cloth”? Enclosures are sometimes made of plastic and a clear plastic is often used in the construction of the visual position indicator.
• How can one be sure that the magnesium content of a light alloy enclosure, in which the switches are fitted, does not result in sparking on impact?
• Is the distance between each circuit in the enclosure sufficient to avoid arcing between them?
• Is the distance between the terminals and the inside of the enclosure sufficient to avoid arcing across the gap? • Has the continuity to earth of each circuit been tested?
• Is the product cleared marked with the intrinsically safe safety parameters and a traceable label?
• Is documentation readily available to the user that will assist with the risk assessment required by the ATEX Directive?

If your switch box manufacturer or supplier cannot answer these questions to your satisfaction then perhaps specifying “simple apparatus” is not as simple as it seems. An alternative would be to specify a switch box that has overall Exi certification to ATEX and or IECEx.

This gives rise to another question.ATEX and IECEx are both certification schemes for electrical equipment in hazardous areas, but why are some products dual certified?

ATEX is accepted outside Europe to some degree but its prime objective is free trade within the EU. This is achieved by establishing a level of safety acceptable to all the European national authorities. IECEx on the other hand was designed as an ISO/IEC Type 5 Certification Scheme administered by a single third party. It uses recognised practice to achieve a common acceptable level of safety. The scope of the Scheme is defined by the standards issued by IEC Standards Committee TC 31. There are currently 34 participating countries with a further 12 countries observing.

The only ATEX document in the public domain is the manufacturer’s “Declaration of Conformity”. This is not the case with the IECEX scheme. Assessment and Test reports are available online and in real time, giving users access to much more detailed information. This transparency together with compliance to clearly defined standards that are based on recognised practice are leading to the adoption of the IECEx scheme in an increasing number of countries outside Europe. Safety may be the prime objective of IECEx certification but as a single global standard moves closer to becoming a reality, free trade will be one its welcome consequences.

For a more detailed comparison of the ATEX and IECEx schemes please visit www.iecex.com/paris/ docs/Guide_IECEx_ATEX_Comparison.pdf

For further information on the IECEx scheme please visit http://www.iecex.com

K Controls Ltd
Tel: 01895 449601
Website: www.k-controls.co.uk

Published in Valve User Magazine Issue 21

Summer 2020 // Issue 53
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