When you think of a multi-disciplinary firm like Catch Engineering, plenty of services and offerings immediately come to mind.
Engineering and design. Project management. Compliance and verification. Investigations. Specialty services. These expertise areas fall squarely within Catch’s wheelhouse – but so do many other, less-traditional industry solutions.
Which happens to be just what we’re digging into today. We had the opportunity to catch up with Travis Conner – Electrical Engineer / Project Lead at Catch Engineering – to learn a bit about hazardous area classification: one of Travis’s areas of expertise and a niche yet critical supporting service offered by Catch.
The Lay of the Land: Hazardous Area Classification
What is Area Classification?
Before going too far into how Catch stands apart in terms of its hazardous area classification services, it’s worth taking a moment to level-set on just what precisely area classification entails in the first place.
Any facility that handles flammable materials here in Alberta and across Canada is subject to Section 18 of the Canadian Electrical Code. This part of the Code exists as a series of guidelines that covers the installation of electrical equipment in hazardous areas where the potential for ignition of explosive gases, dusts, fibres, or flyings due to the installation, design, or use of electrical equipment exists.
That’s where Travis and Catch come in.
“When it comes to area classification, we typically tend to work with traditional oil & gas facilities, laboratories, testing facilities, and some chemical facilities, too; pretty much any operation that handles combustible materials,” Travis explained. “Essentially, I go in and investigate what their existing infrastructure looks like. I also see what their ventilation system looks like and what sort of gas detection system they have. Next, I ask about their operating and maintenance procedures. Then, finally, I’ll do some calculations and make some recommendations and conclusions from there.”
How Many Different Area Classifications Are There?
Travis has given us a great high-level view of the area classification process – but what do those various classifications look like in terms of differences and distinctions between one another?
The Canadian Electrical Code can provide some clarity here, breaking down hazard levels into a series of disparate zones for explosive gas atmospheres:
- Zone 0: a location in which explosive gas atmospheres are present continuously or present for long periods.
- Zone 1: a location in which
- explosive gas atmospheres are likely to occur in normal operation; or
- the location is adjacent to a Zone 0 location, from which explosive gas atmospheres could be communicated.
- explosive gas atmospheres are likely to occur in normal operation; or
- Zone 2: a location in which
- explosive gas atmospheres are not likely to occur in normal operation and, if they do occur, they will exist for a short time only; or
- the location is adjacent to a Zone 1 location, from which explosive gas atmospheres could be communicated, unless such communication is prevented by adequate positive-pressure ventilation from a source of clean air, and effective safeguards against ventilation failure are provided.
Locations dealing with combustible dusts or fibers are broken down into Zones 20, 21, or 22 and are a whole other discussion!
Any area outside the scenarios stipulated by these hazardous area zones receives the classification of “general purpose,” meaning that there is no calculable risk of an explosive atmosphere occurring and that any equipment may be installed or utilized in that space without the risk of creating unsafe conditions.
Why Would an Organization Seek to Change an Area Classification
A lot goes into an effective area classification – not least involving an apt understanding of the nuance between the various hazardous Zone descriptions and an all-clear general-purpose classification.
It’s here that Catch can help your business or endeavour identify additional efficiencies and opportunities, all while keeping safety as the paramount operational consideration.
“We understand that pilot plants and labs are looking to operate as safely as possible with minimal hindrances,” Travis explained. “Depending on when and where these hazardous area classifications are being done originally, these studies are often performed by oil and gas engineers – so all their background and experience is in oil and gas facilities. When we are dealing with products that are explosive or flammable like gas or bitumen, for example, we are usually going to say right away, ‘Alright, this is a hazardous area,’ which may or may not tell the entire story of what’s going on there.
“I say this because with cases like pilot plants or laboratories, the scope of the electrical equipment there is often either very focused or in a tightly controlled environment. These facilities may tend to take a minimal amount of explosive product – maybe a barrel, maybe half a barrel, maybe even just ten litres – and they’ll want to run it through some processes to perform different types of tests. So when it comes to extremely low quantities of a product like that, we do a calculation of the worst-case scenario, where we say, “Okay, what if this particular vessel ruptured, and all of this material escaped at once, would we have enough of it to produce an explosive atmosphere?” And for most applications like this, the answer’s been no; there will not be enough product in the process to fill up the volume of the room or the lab to create an explosive atmosphere, simply based on the finite amount of product that’s in the process.
“This nuanced and detailed understanding of the various codes and recommended practices can often allow for a little bit more accuracy in how we classify these areas,” Travis concluded, “which in turn creates a little bit more flexibility for clients when it comes to the types of equipment they’re able to install there.”
The Final Word on Hazardous Area Classification
Proper hazardous area classification goes much deeper than the stark nature of the various Zones might suggest – and even beyond that initial classification, nuances and processes continue to play a part in the proceedings.
“Beyond examining your facilities’ area classification because a change in operational process is desired, it’s also important that your area classification drawings and reports are renewed every time a substantial change is made to your facility,” Travis stipulated. “Further, it’s critical that maintenance standards are upheld for all your equipment and that your ventilation and gas detection systems are properly maintained for both hazardous and non-hazardous areas. In many cases, a general-purpose classification is contingent on these details being followed to the letter – processes being maintained or gas detectors being installed in high-probability leakage areas, for example. Safety is part of what makes up the Catch Difference, and we adhere to a high standard of excellence in this space across all the work we do – including hazardous area classification in all its shapes and forms.”
Thanks so much for catching us up on the ins and outs of hazardous area classification, Travis Conner. Your time and knowledge are much appreciated!
Do you have a new facility needing area classification – or an existing facility you’d like to see reclassified? Contact us at Catch to learn how we can become your partner of choice in hazardous area classification today.