Working in explosive environments entails high risks and requires important safety measures and the use of professional safety tools. In this article, we'll discuss four important elements you should keep in mind when working in explosive environments.
In an industrial environment, there are activities creating explosive or potentially explosive atmospheres. A vehicle paint spraying activity is an example of such workplaces where work activities create or release flammable gases or vapours. Workplaces handling fine organic dusts such as grain flour or wood are also at risk.
The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR) defines explosive atmospheres as a mixture of dangerous substances with air which comes in the form of gases, vapours, mist or dust. An ignition can set the highly flammable mixture ablaze.
Following safety procedures and using the right equipment is key to guarantee safety in such high risk work environments and helps minimize the risk for explosions. Read on to learn about the main risk of working in explosive environments and the risk prevention through risk assessment, safety measures and safety tools.
1. The main risks of working in explosive environments
There is a number of substances that are flammable when mixed with air, meaning that there are many industrial sectors where potentially explosive atmosphere can arise in their process. Some of such atmospheres are not potentially explosive by default but it's often the amount of said substances which makes such areas become hazardous.
It is of uttermost importance to consider all dangerous substances that may be present in the workplace representing a risk for explosions. This includes waste products, materials used for cleaning or maintenance and any used as fuel. It is also important to keep in mind that some combinations of dangerous substances may react together, forming an ignition source or an explosive atmosphere.
When using equipment or tools of any kind, the creation of hot sparks due to the high amount of energy required to process the material bears a potential risk as these sparks could ignite gases.
2. Risk assessment of explosive atmospheres
In order to identify any locations where explosive environments could form, the European ATEX regulation suggests an evaluation of the risk of explosion in a company by identifying the hazardous properties of the dangerous substances involved or the monitoring of work processes like cleaning, repair or maintenance activities. Furthermore, the temperatures and pressures at which the dangerous substances will be handled as well as the quality and choice of tools in use should be kept in mind.
Risk assessments are the first step to determine the potential of explosive environments and initiate measures to minimize the risk.
3. Prevention with safety measures and tools
If you're working together with manufacturers/suppliers or even importers, make sure that their products meet essential health and safety requirements. With AMPCO Safety Tools®, this usually happens through testing and certification by a 'third-party' certification body who ensures that the that the tools are made from non-sparking materials and therefore are safe to use in explosives atmospheres
Other important measures to keep the risk in explosive workplaces as low as possible is the use of correct containers and processes, the correct design of equipment, installation and maintenance as well as the control of ignition sources and heating materials above their auto-ignition point.
Furthermore, the use of appropriate tools, tailor-made for explosive environments is an important safety measure. As such tools are made of soft materials, the amount of energy required to extract pieces from a surface is smaller. Therefore, the separated pieces are not as hot and cannot be qualified as sparks which means they cannot ignite gases.
4. The important role of the material of safety tools
90% of safety tools used in explosive environments are made from aluminium-bronze and copper-beryllium alloys, which offer a great mix of safety and usefulness.
When it comes to the production of high-quality safety tools, it is vital that the exact chemical make-up of the alloy used for the safety tool production is attained with precision since even slight deviations can significantly impact the tool's properties in a negative way. What is more, the smelting process must be executed with care as the tool should not only look great on the outside but its core should be strong and stable. Finally, the heat treatment is a key process to obtain the best possible characteristics.
In certain industries, explosive atmospheres are unavoidable, but by identifying potential sources of danger, executing risk assessments and doing regular maintenance along with implementing and using the appropriate equipment, the potential for explosions and accidents while working in explosive atmospheres can be minimized.
Learn more about this topic in our "Ultimate Guide for the Appropriate Use of Safety Tools".