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United Nation's IECEx endorsement will cut red tape

Author : Paul Gay

08 December 2009

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has this week formally endorsed the use of the IECEx certification system for the verification of product compliance with international safety standards in hazardous areas. The scheme will provide adequate risk mitigation without creating excessive costs or red tape for business and its adoption will remove the costly duplication of equipment assessment and certification.

Photo: Courtesy UNECE
Photo: Courtesy UNECE

UNECE’s Working Party on Regulatory Cooperation and Standardization Policies approved a model for legislation of equipment used in environments with an explosive atmosphere at a meeting last month. High-risk environments covered by the model include mines, refineries and chemical plants, as well as offshore facilities and vessels. The equipment used must be sufficiently safe to offer protection to workers, the natural environment and the communities living close by. 

Countries with no normative framework in the explosive-equipment sector can use the UNECE model as a blueprint for legislation. Countries that already have such a framework could consider gradually converging towards this international model, the statement recommended.

IECEx is an internationally recognised certification system that promotes safety of equipment in explosive areas. It covers equipment, systems, services and competence of personnel in the hazardous area industries where there is a risk of fire and explosions.

Currently, producers and traders often need to repeat costly testing and certification for each of the markets they export to. If they adopt this model, businesses will only need to test and certify their equipment once. Once the model has been adopted as national legislation, the sector will operate under a single common regulatory framework in all participating countries.

The model adopts a whole life cycle approach. It includes installation, production, verification, inspection, maintenance and repair, as well as market surveillance. And it includes procedures for assessing and certifying the competency of personnel.

A first draft of the model was presented at a meeting of regulators and business in Melbourne, Australia, on 2 September 2009. The meeting took place after the annual meeting of the International Electrotechnical Commission system for the certification to standards for electrical equipment for explosive atmospheres (IECEx Scheme). These standards facilitate international trade in equipment and services for use in explosive atmospheres, while at the same time ensuring the required level of safety.

The UNECE model encompasses the IECex scheme and makes it part of a legislative framework. Within this framework, the IECex scheme is an acceptable means of establishing conformity to standards that are commonly agreed. UNECE encourages countries that do not accept IECEx certificates to base national certification of compliance on IECEx testing and assessments.

The IECEx System comprises the following three core Certification Schemes; one for equipment, one for services and one for personnel competencies. Together the schemes provide independent assurance that equipment and services comply with international safety standards and that persons holding an IECEx Certificate of Personnel Competency are competent to work in areas where a concentration of dust, vapour, or flammable liquids has the potential to cause explosions. The certification of equipment is accompanied by the certification of persons working in hazardous environments, as covered by the new IECEx Certificate of Personnel Competency Scheme.

A key objective of the UNECE initiative is to promote the convergence of national technical regulations currently in place toward a shared framework. This will eliminate existing barriers to trade in this equipment and drastically reduce its costs.  At the same time, this will increase the safety of installation and personnel working in this sector. In turn, communities living in the proximity of hazardous locations will also be better protected.

IECEx, is dedicated to covering the highly specialised field of explosion protection associated with the use of equipment in areas where flammable gases, liquids, and combustible dusts may be present. This system provides the assurance that equipment is manufactured to meet dedicated Ex safety standards, and that services such as installation, repair, and overhaul also comply with international IEC safety standards.

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