ATEX – a hazardous barrier to trade as well?

The ATEX Directive conference (see News and Books), organised by BEAMA, was attended by over 100 delegates from 14 countries. Around 70% of the delegates were manufacturers, many with considerable concerns over ATEX for hazardous areas. Gordon Gaddes, Director General of BEAMA, chaired the conference and summed up the overall mood by saying that most […]

The ATEX Directive conference (see News and Books), organised by BEAMA, was attended by over 100 delegates from 14 countries. Around 70% of the delegates were manufacturers, many with considerable concerns over ATEX for hazardous areas.

Gordon Gaddes, Director General of BEAMA, chaired the conference and summed up the overall mood by saying that most delegates were looking for free trade, efficient non-duplicative approvals, safe products and subsidiarity (undertaking work at the most practical level).

But are they getting this with the new Directive? Many problems were claimed. At the simplest level, problems with understanding terminology arise in the different languages. Terms such as `normal’, `foreseeable faults’ and `state-of-the-art’ can have different interpretations.

Next, there is a shortage of experts and funds to undertake all the work needed in time to make the Directive mandatory on July 1st 2003.

At present there are no complimentary regulations on hazardous area classifications in different countries. And therefore different national rules are being applied which will have to be harmonised. There are also politics, with some notified bodies using the possibilities of the ATEX Directive restrictively.

Perhaps the most serious problem is that there is a danger of wasteful multiple approaches if the European standardisation and conformity initiatives are not harmonised with international initiatives, such as the IEC Ex standards.

Gaddes points out that the manufacturers are involved in sequence with innovation, design, prototype construction, approvals, suppliers, production, marketing and selling – globally.

Meanwhile, the users are involved in alternative sources, planning the purchase and installation and efficient operation.

All this takes time – and uncertainty about legislation inevitably leads to problems and delays.

Issues must be addressed now, he says. Remember the costs involved, and the need for speed when handling changing technology and market opportunities – not just in Europe.

There is a growing concern that the ATEX Directive could promote obsolete technology that’s out of step with IEC standards and cost-effective solutions used in the rest of the world.

So far, transparent decision-making between the newly established ATEX advisory group, national Governments, CEN, CENELEC, EOTC, IEC and ISO does not appear to be systematic – or handled through clearly-defined representatives.

With such important implications for industry, it is time this Directive was fully evaluated by all interested parties – and if necessary revised to reflect current thinking and recent technology.

The conference mood was that we do not want to create more trade barriers. The different concepts and mutual recognitions must be considered.