The Ultimate Guide to Explosive Atmospheres: Essential Safety Information

explosive atmospheres

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Explosive atmospheres pose significant risks in various industries and workplaces. These dangerous environments can be caused by flammable gases, mists, vapors, and combustible dusts that, when mixed with air, can lead to potentially devastating explosions. Understanding the nature and causes of explosive atmospheres is essential to ensuring the safety of employees and preventing costly damages to property and infrastructure.

To manage the risks associated with explosive atmospheres, it is crucial to identify and classify hazardous zones, select appropriate equipment, and implement strict safety measures. The ATEX directive, which outlines the requirements for protective systems and devices intended for use in potentially explosive environments, provides a framework for achieving these objectives. By familiarizing themselves with the principles of ATEX and other relevant guidelines, industry professionals can take decisive steps to minimize the likelihood of accidents and create safer working conditions.

In this article, readers will gain a comprehensive understanding of explosive atmospheres, their causes, and measures that can be taken to reduce associated risks. Further, it will provide valuable insights into the intricacies of ATEX directives and offer guidance on implementing effective hazard management strategies.

Understanding Explosive Atmospheres

Explosive atmospheres can occur in both industrial and non-industrial environments, posing a significant risk to people and property. In this section, we will define what constitutes an explosive atmosphere and examine the different types that can arise.

Flammable Gases and Vapours

An explosive atmosphere involving flammable gases and vapours occurs when a mixture of dangerous substances combines with air under atmospheric conditions. These mixtures can ignite when exposed to an ignition source, like a spark, flame, or excessively high temperature, leading to a violent explosion. Flammable substances include gases and vapours, which can explode when mixed with air between specific percentage mixtures known as the Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) and Upper Explosive Limit (UEL) (ExVeritas).

The main factors influencing the probability and severity of an explosion involving flammable gases and vapours include:

  • Concentration of the flammable substance in the atmosphere
  • Chemical properties of the substance (e.g., volatility and reactivity)
  • Presence of an effective ignition source

Combustible Dusts and Mists

Explosive atmospheres can also result from the suspension of combustible dusts or mists in the air. In these instances, the dust or mist particles must be fine enough to stay suspended in air for extended periods, allowing for the right conditions to ignite and cause a self-sustained fire or explosion (HSE).

The main factors that determine the likelihood and severity of an explosion involving combustible dusts and mists include:

  • Size and properties of the particles (e.g., density, shape, and size)
  • Concentration of the dust or mist in the atmosphere
  • Presence of an effective ignition source

Understanding the types of explosive atmospheres and their unique characteristics is essential for implementing effective safety measures to prevent fires and explosions in the workplace and other environments.

Hazardous Area Classifications

When it comes to explosive atmospheres, understanding hazardous area classifications is crucial for maintaining safety and preventing accidents. This section covers the various aspects of hazardous area classifications, including Zones, Gas Groups, and Ambient Temperatures.


Hazardous areas are classified into zones based on the frequency and duration of the occurrence of an explosive gas atmosphere. These zones are as follows:

  • Zone 0: An area in which an explosive gas atmosphere is present continuously or for long periods or frequently. (source)
  • Zone 1: An area in which an explosive atmosphere is likely during normal operation. (source)
  • Zone 2: An area in which an explosive atmosphere is not likely during normal operation, but if it does occur, it will exist for a short period. (source)

Gas Groups

Explosive atmospheres are further categorized based on gas groups, which are grouped according to their ignition properties. The main gas groups include:

  1. Group I: Mines susceptible to firedamp (flammable gas found in coal mines)
  2. Group II: Surface industries with flammable gases, vapors, and mists, further subdivided into three subgroups:
    • IIA: Propane, acetone, and ammonia
    • IIB: Ethylene, methyl ethyl ketone, and town gas
    • IIC: Hydrogen, acetylene, and carbon disulfide
  3. Group III: Surface industries with flammable dusts, divided into three subgroups:
    • IIIA: Combustible flyings (e.g., fibers and lint)
    • IIIB: Non-conductive dust (e.g., wood, flour, and grain)
    • IIIC: Conductive dust (e.g., metal dusts and carbon black)

Ambient Temperatures

Ambient temperature plays a significant role in hazardous area classifications because it affects the potential for ignition. Electrical equipment installed in hazardous areas must be designed and selected to operate safely within a certain temperature range. Equipment manufacturers typically specify the temperature range, known as the “T Class,” for their products.

The T Class system consists of six temperature classes (T1 to T6) based on the maximum surface temperature of the electrical equipment:

T ClassMaximum Surface Temperature
T1≤450°C (842°F)
T2≤300°C (572°F)
T3≤200°C (392°F)
T4≤135°C (275°F)
T5≤100°C (212°F)
T6≤85°C (185°F)

ATEX and DSEAR Regulations

The world of explosive atmospheres is governed by strict regulations in order to ensure safety and prevent accidents. In this section, we will explore the ATEX and DSEAR regulations, which have been put in place to oversee the handling of dangerous substances and protect workers in industries prone to explosive atmospheres.

Directive 99/92/EC

Commonly known as ATEX 137 or the ‘ATEX Workplace Directive,’ Directive 99/92/EC is one of two European Directives designed to control explosive atmospheres. This directive focuses on the minimum requirements for improving the health and safety protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres. It aims to ensure that employers take appropriate measures to prevent the formation of such atmospheres, as well as the ignition of potentially explosive materials.

Companies are required to follow various precautionary measures outlined in the directive, including the correct classification of hazardous areas, the selection and installation of suitable equipment, and worker training to ensure their safety and awareness regarding explosive substances and atmospheres.

Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002

The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) 2002 were implemented in the United Kingdom to address the risks of fire, explosion, and other hazards arising from dangerous substances. These regulations require employers to assess the risks posed by dangerous substances and implement proper control and mitigation measures to protect employees.

Under DSEAR, employers are required to:

  • Identify hazardous substances within the workplace and evaluate their risks
  • Control the risks associated with these hazardous substances
  • Put in place procedures to deal with accidents, incidents, and emergencies related to dangerous substances
  • Provide employees with information, instruction, and training regarding the risks and relevant precautions
  • Classify potentially explosive atmospheres according to specific criteria and implement necessary safety measures

In summary, ATEX and DSEAR regulations play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of employees and workplaces in industries that are prone to explosive atmospheres. By adhering to these guidelines and being vigilant about potential hazards, businesses can reduce the risk of accidents and create a safer environment for everyone.

Risk Assessment and Protective Systems

When dealing with explosive atmospheres, it is crucial to conduct a thorough risk assessment and implement appropriate protective systems to ensure workplace safety. This section will discuss the risk assessment process and protective measures that should be considered when managing potentially explosive atmospheres.

Risk Assessment Process

Conducting a risk assessment for explosive atmospheres involves several steps. These include:

  • Identifying hazards: Determine the presence of dangerous substances that could form explosive atmospheres, such as gases, vapours, mists, or dusts.
  • Evaluating risks: Assess the likelihood and consequences of an explosion occurring due to the identified hazards, taking into account factors such as ignition sources, equipment, and potential impacts on workers and the environment.
  • Classifying hazardous areas: Based on the risks identified, classify areas as per BS EN 60079-10-2:2015, which provides a standard for classifying explosive atmospheres.
  • Implementing controls: Establish controls to minimize the risk of an explosion, including eliminating or reducing hazardous substances, selecting suitable equipment, and maintaining safe work practices.
  • Monitoring and review: Regularly review the risk assessment and update it as necessary to account for changes in the workplace, new hazards, or technological advancements.

Protective Measures

Appropriate protective systems and measures should be in place to reduce the risk of explosions in potentially hazardous environments. Some of these protective measures include:

  • Equipment selection: Choose equipment and protective systems that meet the requirements of the ATEX Product Directive 2014/34/EU, ensuring it is suitable for use in explosive atmospheres and has undergone necessary certifications.
  • Intrinsic safety: Design electrical systems and equipment in a way that limits the available energy in the circuit to prevent ignition of potentially explosive atmospheres.
  • Explosion protection: Implement explosion protection techniques such as containment, which prevents the propagation of an explosion, or venting, which releases pressure to a safe location outside the protected equipment.
  • Training and supervision: Ensure workers are well-trained in handling hazardous materials, operating equipment, and following safety procedures in potentially explosive atmospheres. Regular supervision is essential to ensure compliance with safety standards and practices.
  • Maintenance: Regularly inspect and maintain equipment, protective systems, and safety measures to ensure their effectiveness and address any potential concerns promptly.

By following a thorough risk assessment process and implementing appropriate protective measures, the safety of workers and the overall workplace can be significantly enhanced in potentially explosive atmospheres.

Equipment Selection and Maintenance

In explosive atmospheres, choosing the right equipment and maintaining it is crucial to ensure safety and operational efficiency. This section will provide insights into certified equipment, the installation process, and recommended standards for equipment selection and maintenance.

Certified Equipment

When selecting equipment for use in explosive atmospheres, it is essential to choose devices that are certified for the specific environment. ATEX and IECEx certifications are international standards that provide guidance and ensure compliance. Equipment with these certifications is designed and tested to prevent ignition sources and maintain safety in the presence of explosive gases, dust, or fumes.

There are several categories of explosion-proof devices, and you should select the appropriate device according to the Zone Classification of the area in which it will be used. Zones 0, 1, and 2 are related to combustible gases, fumes, or mists. Ensure that the chosen equipment is suitable for the specific zone classification to optimize safety and operational reliability (source).


Correct installation of equipment in explosive atmospheres is crucial in maintaining safety and preventing potential hazards. It is important to follow manufacturer guidelines and adhere to local regulations during installation.

Before installation, review the available standards, such as BS EN ISO 80079-36:2016, which covers non-electrical equipment for explosive atmospheres, and BS EN 60079-17:2014, which focuses on electrical installations in explosive atmospheres (source).

Additionally, it is essential to ensure that equipment is installed by competent personnel who have experience in dealing with explosive atmospheres. Proper training and adherence to safety guidelines will further enhance the safety of equipment installation.

Equipment selection and maintenance are critical aspects of working in explosive atmospheres. By choosing certified equipment and following appropriate installation procedures, organizations can reduce the risk of accidents and improve operational safety.

Preventing Explosive Atmospheres

Preventing explosive atmospheres is a critical aspect of ensuring safety in a wide range of industries. This can be achieved by eliminating ignition sources as well as minimizing significant damage that may result from an explosion.

Eliminating Ignition Sources

One of the primary steps towards preventing explosive atmospheres is the elimination of potential ignition sources. According to HSE, an explosive atmosphere is defined as a mixture of dangerous substances with air, under atmospheric conditions, in the form of gases, vapours, mist, or dust, in which an ignition source can lead to an explosion. There are several approaches to removing these ignition sources:

  • Substitute Hazardous Materials: Choose non-flammable alternatives or materials with higher flash points whenever possible.
  • Inertization: Introduce inert gases to the environment to create an atmosphere where combustion cannot occur (WAGO).
  • Proper Electrical System Design: Ensure electrical installations are designed, selected, and erected to minimize the risk of ignition, as per BS EN 60079-14:2014 standards (IET).
  • Equipment Maintenance: Regularly inspect and maintain equipment to prevent mechanical sparks or overheating.

Minimizing Significant Damage

In cases where ignition sources cannot be completely eliminated, it’s essential to minimize potential significant damage that might result from an explosion. Employing the following measures can help achieve this:

  • Explosion Venting: Install vents that will direct the effects of an explosion towards a safe area, relieving pressure and minimizing structural damage.
  • Explosion Suppression: Utilize specialized suppression systems that detect an explosion in its early stages and release extinguishing agents, such as chemicals or gases, to limit the potential damage.
  • Explosion Isolation: Employ strategically placed barriers to prevent the propagation of an explosion from one area to another.
  • Proper Training and Procedures: Ensure that workers are well-trained and aware of the potential hazards, follow procedures, and adopt safe practices to reduce the likelihood of an explosion.

By carefully addressing both ignition sources and the potential for significant damage, it is possible to effectively prevent explosive atmospheres and ensure a safe working environment.

Picture of Author: Max Lee

Author: Max Lee

This is Max, I have been working in CressaLED as sales and marketing director for more than 10 years. Knowledgable in LED lighting technology, experienced in kinds of industrial lighting projects, including explosion proof lighting solutions.

Picture of Author: Max Lee

Author: Max Lee

This is Max, I have been working in CressaLED as sales and marketing director for more than 10 years. Knowledgable in LED lighting technology, experienced in kinds of industrial lighting projects, including explosion proof lighting solutions.

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