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Maintaining ATEX

15 February 2011

After installing ATEX compliant equipment, make sure that the service technicians used for ongoing maintenance are suitably qualified warns Brian Graystone from weighing equipment supplier Avery Weigh-Tronix.

Installing ATEX compliant equipment to meet the needs of different zones is just the beginning as far as explosion prevention is concerned. Under ATEX 137 directive, employers have an ongoing duty to maintain equipment so that the means of protection against potential sources of ignition remains effective.

Health and safety should always be at the top of the agenda when you are considering ongoing maintenance and service for such areas. In addition, the legal responsibility lies with the employer so the consequences of an accident are serious. 

Times are tough at the moment, but avoid the temptation of making false economies by looking for a cheaper service alternative. Before making such a change make sure that you know what you are buying. Unfortunately a surprisingly large number of service technicians do not have the appropriate training for working in ATEX zones. This means that you must check that people are qualified to do what they claim.

Consider that ATEX and DESER legislation is constantly evolving and quite right too, if we are to avoid future disasters like Buncefield and Piper Alpha. It takes a strong commitment from a manufacturer or service organisation to keep its service technicians up to date. Most large organisations will ensure that training is ongoing, but there are a numerous small operators, some of whom are less than stringent.

It is bad enough taking a chance for maintenance on equipment installed in normal working environments. The affects for equipment in a potentially explosive atmosphere could be disastrous.

So, how exactly should you check that service technicians coming onto site are competent to work in an ATEX environment and also complete the service and maintenance that is necessary? I believe that you should ensure that all outsourced service personnel should meet three basic criteria. 

First, they should be independently trained by accredited trainers about hazard awareness and working in an ATEX environment. This ensures that they know how to conduct themselves in such areas and do not create any additional risk. They should also be aware of what protection they need and take appropriate precautions.

The service organisation should be able to provide proof that its technicians have received such training with appropriate certification. Check the validity of the training organisation for your own peace of mind. 

At Avery Weigh-Tronix we take this one step further. We believe that it is not enough for technicians to have been on a course, but that they need to be tested for understanding – to achieve this they need to complete a company written exam. 

Second, the technicians should have received product training for the equipment that they are working on. Inspection and maintenance throughout a product’s or system’s lifetime is vital. Inspection may be on three levels depending on what is required – visual, close or detailed. 

It is vital for the technician to understand the equipment and whether any maintenance affects its ATEX compliance. Check that the technician can assess and sign the appropriate documentation to state that the equipment still meets the ATEX requirements.
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Finally any outsourced technician should have received the appropriate site induction course for your premises. ATEX is a general requirement, you will have conducted your own hazard analysis and taken appropriate action to remove or minimise risk. Any technicians working on site should be aware of these and any procedures that are site specific.

It is important that equipment is regularly inspected and maintained. This ensures that it remains safe in an ATEX environment and also ensures that it continues to operate properly so that your processes remain efficient.

The appropriate inspection and maintenance schedule should be in the equipment’s operation and maintenance manual. Ideally the service organisation should be able to tell you the details of when and what services took place and when the next scheduled inspection is due. The technicians coming onto site should be informed and prepared – especially in today’s era of modern communication.

So in conclusion check your outsourced service suppliers with care. Not all may be what they seem and in the context of ATEX this could be dangerous. Remember that you are legally liable.

For further information, please contact:

Avery Weigh-Tronix
Foundry Lane
Smethwick
West Midlands
B66 2LP

Tel: 0845 900 22 44
Fax: 0870 90 00366
Email: info@awtxglobal.com 
Web: www.averyweigh-tronix.com
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