Explosive atmospheres in the workplace have been a challenge since before the Industrial Revolution.
Many workplaces contain or have activities that produce explosive or potentially explosive atmospheres. Examples are processes that create or release flammable gases or vapors, or fine organic dusts or generate grains.
Atmosphéres Explosives (ATEX) is a European set of directives for controlling explosive atmospheres. Its purpose is to provide minimum requirements for improving the health and safety protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres.
Within the specific work areas, zones are demarcated depending on the severity level of the explosive risk. Equipment developed for use in an ATEX environment will be very specific as to which zone it will be allowed to operate in.
Hydrocarbon transportation under pressure through pipelines falls into a very specific ATEX certification group.
It is recognized in Europe on most offshore and onshore pipeline facilities that equipment to be used within the pipeline will require certification for zone 1. Most pigging operations such as cleaning or inline inspection are now conducted with ATEX certified equipment as standard.
Inline isolation or plugging has to date been waived from this requirement. Such work instead requires extensive risk assessments and hot work permits to ensure as safe a working environment as possible.
This paper covers the challenges faced to certify an inline isolation tool (SmartPlug® tool) for use in a zone 1 ATEX work area, from equipment development challenges to final certification and execution of an inline isolation project with full certification package.