Anyone regularly dealing with flammable gases in the workplace will be familiar with what is known as the ATEX directive. ATEX actually consists of two directives, and takes its name from the French name of the first directive; Appareils destinés à être utilisés en ATmosphères EXplosibles. Both dictate ways in which employees must be protected from the risk of explosion in areas with an explosive atmosphere, the first, often known as ATEX 95 covers the type of equipment that must be used, and the second, known as ATEX 137, covers the minimum workplace requirements to improve the protection of workers.


Why is ATEX needed?

Potentially explosive atmospheres are commonly caused by the presence of flammable liquids such as petrol and diesel, which create vapours that mix with the air. Equally, however, explosive or flammable mists or even fine combustible dust such as grain flour or wood dust can create an explosive atmosphere. The key issue is that such atmospheres only require a source of ignition such as a flame, spark or even a static shock to cause a potentially highly dangerous explosion.

The ATEX directives therefore set requirements for essential health and safety requirements and certifies it as being suitable for the purpose for which it is designed, that it can be used safely for this purpose in an explosive atmosphere, and that sufficient information is supplied with it to allow for its safe use. Equipment certified in such a way is then marked by the ‘CE’ marking along with the distinctive ‘Ex’ symbol, and the ATEX directives provide for its free use across the EU without requiring further testing or certification by individual countries.


What is the background, and what’s changed?

The original directive relating to equipment was ATEX Directive 94/9/EC and, following a six and a half year transition period, it came into force from 30th June 2003. It mandated using appropriately ATEX tested and marked equipment, all of which must have had a formal and documented hazard analysis carried out, and all potential sources of ignition identified along with steps to mitigate against them.

Following the introduction of the New Legislative Framework (NLF) in 2008, a number of CE Marking Directives were re-written and re-issued. Directive 94/9/EC was one of these, and has been replaced by ATEX Directive 2014/34/EU, which came into force on 18th April 2014 and fully repealed the old directive on 20th April 2016.

Although the new directive has been substantially re-written and re-formatted, the actual changes to the requirements for manufacturers and end-users is minimal. The same types of products are covered as by the previous directive, although specific clarification has been included that components designed to be incorporated into a larger system do still fall within the scope of the directive.


What equipment is covered?

ATEX covers any ‘equipment’ or ‘protective system’ that is designed to operate in an explosive atmosphere and is capable of igniting it either when operating normally or in the event of a fault. It includes individual components, safety devices, and equipment or components manufactured by organisations for their own use.

Some equipment is specifically excluded because other EU standards apply, such as medical equipment, intentionally explosive products such as for mining, transport equipment, and personal protective equipment. Other equipment may be excluded because there is no chance of it generating a spark, for example equipment operating in atmospheres without air, and mechanisms that cannot generate a spark due to low friction speed, low energy impacts, and/or low spark materials.


What is required by ATEX?

Before a manufacturer may place on the market any product for use in an explosive atmosphere, they must have carried out a detailed explosion risk assessment that lists the hazards, the mitigation measures, and confirms that the mitigation steps adequately reduce the risk of the equipment triggering an explosion.

ATEX also requires that the equipment is specifically designed to minimise the potential for explosions, and against other hazards that are not regulated by other directives. It is generally tested by an external agency with official sanction and the design of the equipment is closely scrutinised to ensure that all risks have been adequately mitigated. Equipment must also come with adequate instructions for safe use, with the contents of the instructions dictated by the directive.

Finally, ATEX-compliant equipment must be marked with key information specific to equipment designed for explosive atmospheres; the Ex mark, the category, and any restrictions on temperature and type of explosive atmosphere.


How does this affect me?

Anyone manufacturing, installing or using diesel storage tanks is likely to have to consider the ATEX regulations, and ensuring that they use ATEX-certified equipment where required.

Manufacturers and installers of tanks may well have to consider ATEX certification, if not for the tank itself – as it lacks moving parts, then for any additional equipment that is part of the installation such as alarms, contents gauges, transfer pumps and other equipment with electronic elements or moving parts.

Likewise, for site owners, it is vital that they consider if and how the installation of diesel storage tanks may create an explosive atmosphere on their site and, therefore, what other equipment may need to be ATEX-certified, including pumps and nozzles as well as tank cleaning and maintenance equipment.

Failure to comply with ATEX directives can lead to prosecution and result in a prison term or heavy fines. More importantly, it could lead to death or serious injury in the event of an explosion, so it is vital that responsible business-owners purchase appropriate equipment and, if necessary, take expert advice from ATEX-certified equipment manufacturers to ensure that what they are buying is approved and suitable for the intended use.