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Hazardous area certification and the phasing out of ATEX certificates

Author : Tal Hopkins, C&P Engineering Services

23 November 2022

In this opinion piece, C&P Engineering Service’s Principal C&I Engineer and Technical Director Tal Hopkins shares his views after the UK government announced a further extension to the UK Conformity Assessment (UKCA) deadline.

With further delays recently announced to the long awaited deadline for the UKCA scheme, and with it, a stay of execution allowing the continued sale of CE marked products until 31 December 2024, I couldn’t help be reminded of the frustrations voiced throughout the hazardous area industry regarding the decision to abandon the well-established European ATEX product certification scheme in favour of something new. Something quintessentially British – a brand new UKEX certification scheme – created solely for hazardous area equipment that will be installed in Britain only, which, as a result of its introduction would also require the recertification of all new/modified electrical (and non-electrical) equipment for use in potentially flammable atmospheres.

Rather than creating a new dedicated scheme for UK products, most people in the industry would agree that upon exiting the European Union, there were two very workable options with regard to how we might approach future product certification for equipment installed in such dangerous environments:

1. Retain ATEX product certification – admittedly, following Britain’s withdrawal from the EU would also mean the UK no longer being invited to influence European policy, forced to adopt any future changes to the ATEX scheme gracefully whether we agree or otherwise. However, for all its faults and additional marking requirements, the ATEX scheme is well-established and well understood by engineers across the UK, having been in place for 20+ years.

2. Join the global IECEx product certification – as with ATEX, the IECEx is now very well-established and very similar to the ATEX scheme that we in the UK are familiar with but with the added advantage that all IECEx product certs are available, free of charge, at the touch of a button via the IECEx website. Admittedly, this option might also bring with it an end to systems integrators, manufacturers, end users et al self-certifying electrical equipment for use in Zone 2 and Zone 22, but by joining this scheme it would bring the UK in line with the rest of the world and with it, much closer links to a truly global market place, no longer constrained by those overly restrictive European trade borders we were told during successive Brexit campaigns, were holding the UK back from re-establishing itself as a global industrial powerhouse...

And yet it seems with little, or no consultation with the industry, we are in a position today facing further delays to that brand new ‘Britain only’ UKEX Hazardous Area product certification scheme, which one can only assume has been delayed in line with the UKCA deadline, adding even more confusion about what is permitted to be installed in such dangerous environments and when – much to the frustration of engineers and manufacturers alike!

It would certainly appear to me, as with many of the decisions made in the corridors of Whitehall, in the rush to finalise the Brexit divorce papers, we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater and taken the UK in entirely the wrong direction… but hopefully the delay to its implementation will give an opportunity for the hazardous area industry’s voice to be heard and for common sense to prevail?

About the author:

Tal Hopkins is Technical Director and Principal Instrument & Control Engineer for C&P Engineering Services Ltd. He has a BEng (1st Class Hons Degree) - Chartered since 2005 and TUV Rheinland Certified Functional Safety Engineer, a subject matter expert in Area Classification Services & Hazardous Areas and a CompEx12 Design Engineer Instructor.

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