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EN vs IEC – A conflict in the making?


10 July 2018

Being active in both the European and the International standards making forums, I have recently started to wonder if there is a conflict created by “going global”.  I have always been a supporter of the “One World – One Standard” philosophy; as an aid to trade and world prosperity, and as means of making safe equipment and safe practices universally accessible.

In Europe, at least in respect of hazardous area explosion risks, we fully subscribe to the practice of “Parallel Voting” whereby the same draft standard is simultaneously voted for adoption at international level and at European level.  This ensure equality of the technical requirements between Europe and most of the rest of the world (outside North American influence), surely a laudable objective in terms of driving Europe’s export business; and remaining vital after Brexit.

However, there is a growing concern that following this path might lead to a gentle erosion of the levels of safety that have prevailed in Europe for many years.  I am not suggesting any significant drop, but I have noticed a far greater tendency, internationally, to opt for easier solutions, rather than remaining rigorous.  Are we moving to a situation where the balance between the costs and the levels of safety are shifting?

This was discussed at the Cenelec TC31 meeting in Brussels, towards the end of May, and there was considerable sharing of similar views.  Nothing dramatic, but just a sense that we may be moving in the wrong direction.

Resulting from those discussions, we will be setting up a mechanism whereby National Committees within Europe can share any concerns at the European level, before submitting comments on an IEC draft document.  Thus European members of the IEC Maintenance Teams will have a chance to discover if their views are shared, or if the rest of Europe would not be prepared to support them.  Thus, a strategy can be developed to deal with the potential problem in the IEC Maintenance Team.

Perhaps European countries generally have taken their eye slightly off the ball, as instanced by discussions in Brussels on two old EN documents that were slated for withdrawal.
The future of EN 50381 for Transportable Ventilated Rooms is now a live debate. 

Theoretically, because of the overlapping scope, this should have been withdrawn before the official DoW (date for withdrawal of conflicting publications) given in the recently published EN 60079-13.  With hindsight, it would have been better to allow EN 50381 to co-exist with IEC 60079-13 and not publish the IEC text as an EN.  However, insufficient concern was expressed during the development of IEC 60079-13 and it was voted positively at both IEC and Cenelec level.  We are now faced with a number of people, in more than one country, claiming that EN 60079-13 cannot be used, as to meet the explosion safety requirements would make the room uninhabitable for environmental reasons.

An ad-hoc Working Group is being led by Norway, which has a particular interest in the subject because of North Sea legislation.  This will almost certainly recommend changing the scope of EN 60079-13 (making it different from the scope of IEC 60079-13) and revising EN 50381 against a tight timescale.

Similarly, many Cenelec member countries have voted to withdraw EN 50303, a very old standard for mining where almost all of the requirements now appear in later standards.  However, at the last moment, one country pointed out that this is the only document that supports the use of Category 2 Gas Detectors in mining by allowing them to be considered equivalent to Category M1 provided they are certified for Group IIC.  Another ad-hoc Working Group has been set up to review EN 50303, in its entirety, to check if any other similar items need to be retained.  If yes, a project will be instituted to prepare a new (much smaller) edition of the standard.

The situation with both EN 50381 and EN 50303 illustrates the dangers of National Committees voting positively by default, on documents where no one in the country has any knowledge of the implications.  Perhaps countries should be encouraged to use the “Abstain” option more frequently.

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