Number one in its field

IECEx leads the way in Ex compliance

By Claire Marchand

Year in, year out, the list of incidents happening in hazardous areas doesn’t seem to be diminishing. The oil and gas sector has had its share of fires and explosions, obviously, that have been widely reported both in the general media and in specialized trade publications. But it’s not alone. Mining is another sector where risks are high for a number of reasons, including leaks of poisonous gases, dust explosions, collapsing of mine stopes, flooding, or improper use/malfunction of mining equipment, e.g. safety lamps or electrical equipment. Not to mention sugar refineries and food processing plants, and any industry that operates, even partially, in potentially explosive atmospheres.

Shanghai cityscape The 2017 IECEx International Conference took place in Shanghai, China, on 11-12 April

Mitigating risks

Zero risk may not be conceivable but there are measures that can be taken to mitigate risks and make sure that the equipment used is explosion-proof, that those working in Ex environments do so in the safest possible way. Reducing risks is also important for those living in the vicinity of Ex operations. 

The measures that need to be taken include installing and operating equipment that incorporates an explosion-protection technique as part of its design and manufacturing. It is also necessary to hire staff that has the necessary training, skills and competences to work in hazardous areas. 

The IEC, through IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, has the mechanisms in place to help industry, authorities and regulators ensure that equipment (electrical and non-electrical) as well as the people working in Ex locations benefit from the highest level or safety. 

Going strong

Last year, IECEx celebrated the 20-year anniversary of its very first meeting in London (July 1996), which marked a milestone for IEC conformity assessment (CA) as the first CA System to be solely dedicated to a specific industry and technology sector. In 2017, IECEx continues to grow steadily. 

IECEx covers equipment for use in areas where flammable and combustible materials are used, handled, stored or transported and which are referred to as Ex areas. While the IECEx initial service offering was based on the highly successful IECEE CB Scheme, providing for the mutual recognition of test and assessment reports, IECEx went on to develop the IECEx Certification Scheme for Equipment and introduced the IECEx On-line Certificate System where each and every certificate issued by each IECEx approved certification body is fully visible to the public. 

Following its initial success, IECEx went on to develop the IECEx Certified Service Facilities Scheme and then the IECEx Certified Persons Scheme both using the hugely popular IECEx On-line Certificate System. 

United Nations endorsement through UNECE

With its three Schemes, IECEx covers all aspects of conformity assessment in the Ex field. In addition to equipment and personnel, the System also provides testing and certification for service facilities that repair and overhaul Ex equipment. Its global scope has been reinforced by the endorsement it received from the United Nations through the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) as the internationally-recognized certification system for promoting the safety of equipment, services and personnel associated with devices, systems and installations used in explosive areas. 

Focus on China

The 2017 International IECEx Conference took place in Shanghai, China on 11-12 April. Organized by the IEC and IECEx, together with the Certification and Accreditation Administration of the People’s Republic of China (CNCA), in conjunction with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the two-day event was a unique opportunity not only to learn more about IECEx, but also to get involved and network with the Ex community. 

This year again, the speakers’ list included leading experts involved in standardization, equipment manufacturing, inspection, repair and overhaul of Ex equipment and systems, as well as in the assessment and certification of personnel competence. Through their presentations and contacts with participants, they were able to share their experience and knowledge on all matters pertaining to the Ex field with around 400 participants. 

Information on the 2017 IECEx International Conference, along with copies of the presentations, is on the IECEx website. 

Standards for Ex equipment

IEC TC 31 has a complete series of International Standards, IEC 60079, that cover all specific requirements for electrical Ex equipment and systems, from general requirements to protection levels for apparatus used by all sectors that operate in hazardous environments. 

IEC SC 31M, a subcommittee of IEC TC 31, has developed the ISO/IEC 80079 series of Standards, of which two are of particular importance to IECEx:

ISO 80079-36:2016, Explosive atmospheres - Part 36: Non-electrical equipment for explosive atmospheres - Basic method and requirements, and ISO 80079-37:2016, Explosive atmospheres - Part 37: Non-electrical equipment for explosive atmospheres - Non electrical type of protection constructional safety "c", control of ignition source "b", liquid immersion "k", dealing with non-electrical equipment and protective systems for explosive atmospheres. 

Testing and certifying non-electrical (mechanical) equipment

In 2016, in response to new requests of the Ex industry, IECEx integrated into its operation ISO 80079-36 and ISO 80079-37 into its portfolio. To prevent explosions, both electrical and non-electrical equipment needs to be taken into consideration in a systems approach. IEC and ISO worked closely to prepare these Standards on non-electrical equipment for explosive atmospheres. They provide methods and requirements for the design, construction, testing and marking of non-electrical Ex equipment, Ex components, protective systems, devices and assemblies that are used in explosive atmospheres. 

In 2016 also, IECEx commenced issuing certificates according to the ISO 80079-36 and ISO 80079-37 Standards. 


Representatives from industry and regulators form the majority of the IECEx Management Committee (MC), the body charged with overall management of the IECEx System. Stakeholder groups represented on the MC include equipment manufacturers, end users, regulators, testing and certification bodies, Ex repairers, installers and Ex training organizations and educators. 

Recognized Training Providers

In support of the IECEx Certified Persons Scheme and at the request of industry, IECEx developed the IECEx Recognized Training Provider (RTP) programme as a means of recognizing those training organizations that developed their training programmes in support of the IEC Standards and IECEx Certifications Schemes, thereby assisting candidates to be better prepared for undertaking the IECEx Personal Certification Scheme assessment process. The Scheme was launched in May 2015 and there are currently 16 IECEx RTPs listed on the IECEx website with others in the application stage. One of the oil majors, PETRONAS has successfully achieved IECEx RTP status for their own internal training facility. 

IECEx Certificates

IECEx operates the only global online certificate system dedicated to the Ex field. Given that most consumers of Ex products are educated consumers, the IECEx online system provides instant verification of claims of compliance, providing the one single location where certificates issued by more than 90 IECEx certification bodies (ExCBs) can be found with full public access. In addition to the IECEx website, the three IECEx applications, for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, allow for instant verification of certificates for Ex equipment, Ex service facilities and Ex personnel, both online and offline. 

One key aspect of IECEx is that the IECEx Certificate reference number must be included on product labels for clear traceability purposes. 

IECEx in a nutshell

IECEx operates industry-specific Schemes and Programmes:

  • IECEx Certified Equipment Scheme
  • IECEx Certified Service Facilities Scheme
  • IECEx Scheme for Certification of Personnel Competence
  • IECEx Recognized Training Provider (RTP) Programme 

The IECEx Conformity Mark Licensing operates in association with the IECEx Certified Equipment Scheme. 

More information on

Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in the Gulf of Mexico, is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry
underground mine Dust explosions are a frequent occurrence in underground coal mines
Pneumatic motor Non-electrical equipment used in Ex areas includes among others pneumatic motors (Photo: Globe Airmotors BV)
Shanghai cityscape The 2017 IECEx International Conference took place in Shanghai, China, on 11-12 April