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Forewarned is forearmed

”Explosion protection goes beyond a nice document”

Did you know that manufacturers themselves can declare their self-produced Ex products in safety category 3, such as control panels and portable equipment, being safe? And that they can place those Ex products, completed with CE marking, for zone 2 or 22 on the market? Nothing wrong with that, but it is the butcher who inspects his own meat. But because of ‘impressive stamps’ and other misleading tactics, it sometimes seems that the concerning product has been approved by a Notified Body. That is not the case: it is still the same butcher. The buyer should pay attention; forewarned is forearmed.

“A manufacturer who ‘certifies’ his own equipment is like the butcher who inspects his own meat. That calls for problems.”

The ATEX product directive (ATEX 114) defines for safety category 3 a conformity procedure where manufacturers can, – on own responsibility; without intervention of a Notified Body (certifier) -, assess, declare and CE mark their produced Ex equipment (such as control panels or portable devices) and finally place on the market for Zone 2 or 22.

So far in own words the dictated legal text, because the ATEX directives are due to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty adopted in the National Legislation of each Member Country of the European Union. In the Netherlands, this is regulated under the Explosion-safe Equipment Commodities Act Decree.

Self-certification

Popularly, the category 3 conformity procedure is also referred to as ‘self-certification’. The good listener will of course understand this is actually asking for troubles. Because a manufacturer formally cannot certify at all (for such activity independent certification bodies exist) and this can quickly degenerate into the more common used proverb ‘the butcher who inspects his own meat’ with all the negative publication of scandals surrounding it. Think of horse meat sold as beef.

Currently, we’ll see more and more in the market that manufacturers present themselves as Ex manufacturers. Healthy competition is welcomed in the Ex market, but only if everyone adheres to the applicable agreements. And that is exactly where attention must be drawn to. Does the user realize that the safety of the product and the correctness of the accompanying documents can be essential in the event of a calamity?

To make it clear: ATEX directive 2014/34/EU defines also safety category 1 or 2. In the conformity procedure for category 1 a mandatory intervention of a Notified Body applies at all times; for category 2 this applies to electrical equipment only. But, first when a Notified Body is involved, then we’ll talk about a ‘Certificate’. This can be a ‘Unit Verification Certificate’ (for one-off production) but usually it is an ‘EU Type Examination Certificate’ (for serial production).

Type Examination Certificate van DEKRA
Voluntary certificate from a genuine recognized Notified Body DEKRA GmbH.

Tips

  • Take a serious look to see if the offer is correct.
  • Cheap can be expensive, especially when it comes to the safety of your plant, but even more; to the safety of your employees.
  • Be on the lookout for misleading sales pitches; ‘A large oil company also uses it’.
  • The larger reputable Ex manufacturers, who have often proven their services for 50 years, know how it should be done and do everything they can to apply the regulations correctly.
  • Ask the inspection agencies whether they assess the supplied documents sufficiently substantively. Just receiving an impressive document does not mean that it is correct.

Voluntary

Furthermore, it remains useful to mention that it is even for category 3 possible to apply for a certificate, but this is on a voluntary basis and will be called a ‘Type Examination Certificate’ (note: without indication ‘EU’). But again: ‘Certificates’ should be seen as documents demonstrating independent examinations. Even major reputable Ex manufacturers also use this to get their products more easily accepted by more demanding end-users and inspection agencies. At all times, the Ex manufacturer affixes the CE marking to the Ex equipment and draws up an EU Declaration of Conformity which, – just as the installation- or operating safety instruction -, mandatory shall be supplied with the Ex equipment. Legally in Europe, an EU Declaration of Conformity is more important than a Type Examination Certificate. The latter is actually for the Ex manufacturer a document demonstrating that the prototype has been approved by an independent party. Nothing more, nothing less.

Fictief Certificaat Fa DHZ
A so-called ’certificate’ from a manufacturer posing as a qualified body with an IECx Competent Person in service.

Impressive stamps

Back to category 3. What do we see on the market today? Many products that are subjected to the conformity procedure by manufacturers, without the intervention of a Notified Body, where the manufacturer draws up a ’certificate’ in almost exactly the same style and context as when it comes from a real Notified Body. Finally also signed with impressive stamps suggesting it comes from a recognized Notified Body… Is this misleading?

Keep in mind that you, as purchaser or user of such a product, actually are being sent into the woods by that manufacturer. The Ex manufacturer should provide an EU Declaration of Conformity with which he declares and legally signs a ‘Presumption of Conformity with the Essential Health and Safety Requirements (EHSRs) of the directive’. But what do you get? A ‘Certificate’ which looks like an independent Type Examination Certificate, but in fact drawn up by the manufacturer itself.

It is to be hoped that the user will detect this… For someone who knows the standards, this kind of manufacturers quickly fall through; types of protection are mentioned, which do not always return in the list of applied standards, or sometimes, even worse; may not apply to the product at all. Furthermore, we often see that the edition of the standard is old or not mentioned at all; apparently they don’t even know the ‘State of the Art’…

What also happens is that IECEx terms and ATEX terms are confused. This is unfortunate because IECEx, as a voluntarily applicable system, deviates very strongly from ATEX here; whatever level of protection you wish to apply under IECEx, from ‘a’ to ‘c’, in all three cases an independent IECEx Certification Body shall perform an assessment and certify conformity to ISO or IEC standards!

An ATEX related ‘Certificate’ (which should be an EU Declaration of Conformity) is therefore indeed misleading if it is signed with titles such as Competent Person according to the Personnel Competency Scheme IECEx 05. Marking with IECEx logos is in fact a violation of the IECEx Rules of Procedure and therefore punishable as ‘misuse’. One could even openly question the competence of such persons.

To explain

But what if there is an accident or calamity with the product in question. Who is responsible then? In fact, the answer is simple: The plant owner always remains responsible for what he allows or does not allow in his factory.

Whether the purchaser or user of the product is insured if it turns out to be a dubious product will have to be made clear. Should it go wrong, it can go so wrong that there is practically no evidence left. If the cause can be found, the manufacturer has something to explain to the court. Presumably that will immediately end the business.

Mobile Computing
Ex mobile computer, but always remember: is this device suitable for the relevant zone?

The author of this article, Karel Neleman, is Ex authorized person at BARTEC Group.

And besides:

  • Member of the Dutch National standardization committee Explosion Safety and chairman of subcommittee Installations
  • Delegated Ex manufacturer in the Dutch ATEX Comitology Committee
  • Delegated Ex manufacturer in the international IECEx Management Committee
  • Member of several TC31 Maintenance Teams that bring standards to the desired State of the Art
  • Member of the ATEX 153 platform; a repository of knowledge about Ex applications

This Whitepaper is also published in Dutch in MAG1010 edition 06.2020

Download Whitepaper
(PDF – 1.2 MB)