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Developing a lighting strategy for hazardous environments

04 September 2019

Before launching a new luminaire designed specifically for harsh and hazardous environments earlier this year, Chalmit spoke to plant managers and engineers who are responsible for operations on sites such as oil and gas refineries, chemical processing plants, drilling and exploration rigs, and heavy industrial facilities. 

The engineers were asked, when it comes to lighting, what priorities were at the front of their minds. The most pressing factors were system lifetime, efficiency, quality, light performance, and health and safety. Interestingly, these are all critical factors when developing a lighting strategy. In this article, Ken Eddleston, Lighting Product Manager at Chalmit, discusses the factors that companies working in hazardous environments must consider when developing their own lighting strategy.

Safety

Workplace safety is the most important lighting consideration for decision-makers managing hazardous environments. The temperature at which a light operates, its quality and performance, and its chemical composition, are all factors which affect the health and safety credentials of any lighting strategy.

Hazardous environments are potentially explosive atmospheres. Bearing this in mind, and in order to protect the people and equipment that surround it, the maximum surface temperature of a light must not be able to reach the temperature required to ignite combustible gases and dust. Lighting should be able to operate spark free. In terms of quality and performance, high precision tasks in heavy industrial environments must not be done in dimly lit conditions. Workplace safety can be improved with highly directional and uniform lighting, that has good colour rendering. Other locations where safety can be enhanced by utilising good quality lighting include process areas, compressor decks, stairwells, catwalks, and walkways, all of which need to be illuminated consistently.

System lifetime

Lighting strategies must also consider the importance of system lifetime. Long-life lighting reduces the downtime, costs and risks associated with maintenance work in hazardous environments. It is critical that companies install durable lighting, able to withstand the challenges present in such environments. For instance, the lighting must be able to cope with corrosive elements in water and air, continuous vibrations, shocks and fire risks. Fluorescent and incandescent light bulbs often fail to reach their predicted lifespan when installed in such environments, mainly because of their moving parts, which include unstable filaments vulnerable to damage.

LED luminaires are far better suited to hazardous environments. For example, Chalmit’s Protecta X LED has a system life of over 120,000 hours at 25°C. A high-pressure sodium luminaire, on the other hand, needs relamping every 20,000-24,000 hours. Installing the former as opposed to the latter creates five fewer maintenance visits, thus significantly reducing the risk of accidents during maintenance. When assessing the durability of lighting, it’s important to consider its construction and performance characteristics. For instance, invest in a light constructed with robust and durable heat sinks. Heat sinking increases the surface area and allows for maximum air flow for heat to dissipate and transfer from the light to the ambient environment. Effective thermal management ensures longer life, lower lumen deprecation and minimal colour shift over the life of a light, thus reducing the likelihood of required maintenance. 

Efficiency

In any lighting strategy, lighting efficiency is important because it will impact on energy usage, infrastructure costs and even safety. Rising power prices have made the search for more efficient power options an economic, as well as an environmental priority. With pressure mounting from both the public and governments for industries to improve their green credentials, now is the time to consider implementing LED lighting. LEDs use far less energy when compared to fluorescent alternatives. For luminaires across all lighting sources, both input wattage and lumens are documented, and a calculation of lumens per watt functions as the efficiency metric. Drivers are used to power LEDs. They have very high-power factors (PF) and low total harmonic distortion (THD). The most efficient lights will perform with a PF above 95% and a THD below 15%. More efficient systems further enhance safety through reducing the load on the electrical system.

Added to this, more efficient lighting systems can result in lower infrastructure costs based on reduced requirements for circuit breakers, transformers and wire conductors. Lighting that doesn’t contain filaments, electrodes or mercury should also be preferred over alternatives. Not least because there is no need for specialised storage and disposal measures when these components aren’t present. Finally, it is worth avoiding light that emits UV or infrared radiation. This can cause significant degradation of the specific materials used to manufacture lighting luminaries.

Performance

No lighting strategy can be complete without light performance being considered. Highly directional lighting with impressive colour rendering qualities is ideal. This is because directional lighting reduces light pollution by delivering light with minimal loss or spill. It also minimises the number of luminaires required to illuminate a workplace effectively.

Colour rendering indicates the degree to which a light source shows the true colours of the object it illuminates. Lights with impressive colour rendering credentials contribute to creating a safer working environment. Employees are provided with more accurate lighting which eases precision tasks such as quality checks and reading gauge measurements. At the most basic end of the scale, better lighting reduces the risk of slips, trips or falls. At the upper end, it can be more effective in alerting passing shippers and guiding in helicopters. When comparing the performance of luminaires across both traditional and LED lighting, the focus should be on the usable light on the work plane determined by the lux reading. Decision-makers shouldn’t simply compare different lumen scores as, given its more directional nature, LED lighting requires less lumens than traditional light sources, while performing even better.

Conclusion

Safety, reliability of operation and high maintenance costs of lighting systems in hazardous environments have become critical issues globally. Plant managers and engineers are facing safety concerns owing to frequent lighting failures in the face of extreme temperatures, explosive gases, combustible dusts and fibres, high pressure water hosing, vibration and corrosive fluids. With this in mind, it is important to carefully think about your lighting strategy. Invest in lighting that provides compelling safety benefits and long-term operational cost savings. That means lighting which offers a long maintenance-free economic life, reduced energy consumption, durability and superior lighting quality. 

About the author

Ken Eddleston has over ten years of experience in lighting design. As Lighting Product Manager, Ken has been responsible for supporting every aspect of the Protecta X project from concept to completion. His key focus has been in ensuring that feedback from Chalmit customers has formed a central part of the Protecta X design.


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