EX Hazloc | Inspections in Hazardous Locations & Explosive Atmospheres | A US Perspective

Published 22 Jun 2020

CompEx NEC505 Lab - ATEC Houston

CompEx NEC505 Lab – ATEC Houston

By: Brian Duffy (General Manager - ATEC Group) & Tony Scott (Global Technical Solutions Manager - Eutex Interntional)

USA, Gulf of Mexico (GoM), April 20, 2010: An explosion and fire occurred on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible MODU (Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit) which resulted in the deaths of 11 workers and caused a massive oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

Numerous investigations identified the cause of the accident as a Blow Out Preventer failure. However, the explosion was caused by an unknown hot surface or spark.

Mexico , GoM, April 5th 2015: another explosion and subsequent fire that broke out in the dehydration and pumping area of the Abkatun A-Permanent, an oil-processing platform, causing four deaths and 45 injuries.

Hazardous Area Standards & Inspections

Both of these catastrophic, fatal explosions in the GoM underscore the dangerous conditions that oil workers around the world are compelled to work under. The need for critical maintenance, especially in the Zoned or Divisional areas, and regular and thorough Ex inspections is paramount.

In the US and the GoM, NEC/API (National Electrical Code/ American Petroleum Institute) 500 and 505 are used as standards for hazardous areas. Drilling companies may also follow IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) standards, especially on MODU’s (Mobile Offshore Drilling Units) and Drillships, that are capable of being reassigned globally.

The IEC 60079 series is the universally accepted base electrical standard and individual member nations enact their own legislation to adopt the standards and may have minor variations.

The laws of physics and chemistry are the same in all countries and there are many similarities between the IEC and NEC concepts and practices with both having long and distinguished usage and backgrounds. There are however some significant Installation, Maintenance and Inspection differences between these standards.

Companies following NEC 500 tend to gravitate towards Explosionproof boxes for many applications which are large, heavy, expensive and difficult to install and maintain, where as organizations that subscribe to NEC 505 or IEC 60079 may opt for Increased Safety options, like Ex e equipment where the installation and maintenance routines are more practicable.

The comprehensive curriculum delivered at the ATEC facility in Houston, Texas, provides an excellent opportunity for key personnel to learn about, understand and implement these systems.

Hazardous Area inspections are mandatory and each MODU must have a Hazardous Area Register. ATEC inspectors are highly trained personnel who have many years of field experience installing, maintaining and crucially inspecting Ex equipment. They are trained to take an in-depth analysis of each piece of item , no matter which method of Ex protection has been employed, for any recognized Ex standard adopted at a client’s facility.

Fixed platforms in the GoM have even been known to mix NEC and IEC standards on the same asset which can cause confusion, particularly for the MODU maintenance personnel. ATEC inspectors assess each piece of equipment, recording all of the equipment data on a Hazardous Area Register, collating Certificates showing that the equipment is suitable for the area where it has been installed, complete approved checksheets for each item and show evidence that the inspection team are fully qualified and have their own accredited personal and company certification.

Critical to this activity is that all Ex equipment deficiencies are recorded and an action list to rectify the faults is created. New and existing MODU’s may have a register but in many cases this is actually just a list of equipment in Hazardous Areas and no item has ever been properly checked to ensure they are safe and compliant for the area.

This is a dangerous gap in the industry where companies believe that a stamp on their register/list from the governing body ensures safety, but in fact it allows for potentially explosive situations to exist until an actual inspection has been completed.

In some cases ATEC have noted an average of 40% of equipment compliance failure on newly built MODU’s, albeit most of the issues were minor, however it still remains that the company was not aware of this until they took the action to complete a full Ex inspection.

The deficiency report submitted for a particular problem is accompanied (whenever possible) with a photograph of the deficiency. Deficiencies which are not deemed as a cause for concern, (e.g. low level rust issues) are noted as ‘minor deficiencies.’

Minor deficiencies are not always identified in the written report but are nevertheless reported to the client, usually at a daily meeting. Ideally, a company electrician accompanies the ATEC inspector and is therefore able to close out easily fixed items as the Ex inspection progresses.

The Hazardous Area typically referred to as Zoned areas, where the Ex certified equipment should be located, normally account for approximately 35% of the MODU. Often, the weather conditions in the GoM can be very challenging: the heat can be overbearing for both staff and the Ex equipment; rain can be torrential and hurricanes are an annual occurrence.

When ATEC inspectors came to inspect the lighting fixture shown below, it was full of water, and this was throughout the vessel affecting over 200 items.

Water inside light fixture

Water inside light fixture

Ex Competency – CompEx

Competency is a key word that describes qualified personnel who have years of experience and have been trained and assessed. Currently the only internationally recognised scheme that does this is CompEx. While CompEx certificates are mandatory in other sectors in the world it is yet to mandated in the USA, however more companies are recognizing the need to have their personnel assessed.

ATEC are the largest supporter of CompEx globally through their network of Training Academies in Houston, Singapore and Dubai and are the only organization in that is qualified to deliver the CompEx NEC 505 course, which focuses on Installation and Maintenance practices as set out by API recomended practices.

CompEx courses have grown in popularity in the US, due mainly to the level of complexity and thoroughness of the program and it has also been acknowledged by offshore operators that it is extremely relevant and applicable to the workplace.

The CompEx NEC505 course is designed to provide personnel with skills to enhance downstream safety.

CompEx NEC505 Lab - ATEC Houston

CompEx NEC505 Lab – ATEC Houston

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