The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has issued a Safety Alert to emphasize the importance of properly installed and maintained listed or certified safe electrical equipment in hazardous areas in order to reduce the risk of fire or explosion onboard vessels. Publication follows an increasing number of instances by the Coast Guard where there was a lack of knowledge regarding the installation, training, maintenance and inspection of these certified systems.
Electrical equipment in hazardous areas is common; for example, 12% of all deficiencies written to gas carriers involved hazardous area electrical equipment.
PSC Officers (PSCOs) have found certified safe equipment improperly installed or identified missing components, which compromises the certification of the system and nullifies this critical protection in a flammable environment. In other cases, PSCOs found degraded components and evidence of equipment not being maintained or inspected.
Additionally, USCG personnel nationwide have discovered instances where individuals responsible for the installation, maintenance, and oversight of this equipment onboard foreign and domestic vessels were unfamiliar with the appropriate standards to follow.
IUMI has published a press release reporting that, “marine accident reports in recent years have identified several sources of fires….a significant (leading) number of these incidents have occurred because of electrical fires.”
Fire and explosion protection standards for electrical equipment in the oil and gas industry worldwide is a substantial part of the industry’s safety barrier. Regulatory and certification authorities routinely use their own standards. The US, for example, may use the National Electrical Code (NEC) or American Petroleum Institute (API) standards while other countries have separate requirements.
However, for vessels subject to SOLAS, electrical equipment installations in hazardous areas are required to meet a standard not inferior to those of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), in particular IEC 60092-502:1999.
While hazardous area design standards are included in 46 CFR Subchapter J, the requirements for proper training, inspection and maintenance are not explicitly provided. Furthermore, requirements for these operational aspects of ensuring hazardous area electrical safety and system integrity are more robustly covered in the IEC standards than they are in some of the corresponding national standards.
USCG strongly recommends that owners, operators, shipboard personnel, marine surveyors and service providers:
– Familiarize themselves with additional IEC standards that are called out by IEC 60092- 502:1999 and in particular IEC 60079-14, 60079-17, and IEC 60079-19 as it relates to the proper training, inspection, maintenance, and documentation of electrical equipment installed in hazardous areas to ensure that no potential ignition source is present in hazardous areas aboard tank vessels, gas carriers and vessels using gases or other low flashpoint fuels.
– Ensure proper training for operators and persons with executive functions conducted to a standard not inferior to the IEC at all appropriate levels.
– Implement an appropriate periodic inspection and maintenance program by competent personnel.
– Ensure that any repairs should be made by a competent technician or repair facility. When in doubt, a representative of the equipment manufacturer should be consulted. Any modifications to existing systems must be discussed with and approved by the appropriate regulatory authority (i.e., USCG, flag administration, or vessel classification society).