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What is ATEX Certification? Is It Applicable in North America?

Posted on March 13, 2017

Lately, we’ve seen more vacuum cleaners being marketed in the United States as “ATEX certified” or “ATEX approved.” We even offer some combustible dust safe pneumatic vacuums that meet ATEX requirements.

However, the introduction of yet another acronym to the already crowded arena of OSHA, NFPA, NEC, and so on has understandably brought with it some confusion. In this article, we’ll answer two of the most common questions we get regarding this designation.

For the skimmers out there, here are the short answers:

  • ATEX is a uniquely European Union directive for protection against explosive atmospheres.
  • No. It’s not harmonized with NFPA combustible dust standards and not considered by OSHA an acceptable certification for electrical equipment used in hazardous locations.

Read on for more details about ATEX certification and its relevance in the United States.

What is ATEX certification?

ATEX stands for atmosphères explosibles. It’s a European Union directive from the European Committee for Standardization that covers “equipment and protective systems intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres.” An atmosphere can be explosive for several reasons, including flammable gases, mists or vapors, or combustible dust.

All equipment and protective systems intended for this type of use in the EU must meet ATEX health and safety requirements. In this way, the directive is similar to an OSHA or NEC standard in the United States.

Equipment manufacturers whose products are intended to be used in Europe are responsible for making sure their equipment complies with ATEX standards. This process involves conformity assessment procedures and certification by a third party called a “Notified Body.” Certified equipment is marked with the symbol shown below.

ATEX logo

For equipment intended for use in certain less hazardous explosive locations, manufacturers can self-certify their equipment.

Is ATEX certification compliant with NFPA combustible dust standards and acceptable to OSHA?

This is where things get sticky. While many of the requirements for ATEX certification overlap with NFPA vacuum design requirements often relied upon during an OSHA inspection, the ATEX directive isn’t relevant in the United States.

Instead, OSHA requires equipment to be certified by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL). On its NRTL FAQ page, OSHA states:

“ATEX Certification is a certification of equipment intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres in the European Union. Equipment intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres in the United States must have the specific mark of one of the NRTLs recognized to test and certify this type of equipment.” [emphasis added]

It must be noted that NRTL certifications and marks are issued based upon testing done to electrical codes and standards. There are presently no standards and no NRTL certifications specific to pneumatic vacuum equipment.  

A pneumatically operated vacuum that bears an ATEX certification will have been purposely designed, tested, and certified – albeit by an EU notified body– as meeting specific guidelines for reducing the risk of causing an explosion in a hazardous environment. If the buyer’s pneumatic vacuum options include ATEX pneumatic vacuums and those with no certification, a decision should be made, keeping OSHA’s General Duty Clause in mind.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re purchasing a vacuum cleaner, or any other piece of electrical equipment, that you plan to use in hazardous locations or to collect combustible dust even in non-hazardous locations in the United States, an “EX” symbol probably won’t cut it during an OSHA inspection. That equipment must be certified and marked by an OSHA-recognized NRTL. Even if your equipment meets OSHA requirements, if it doesn’t have an NRTL mark, you may find yourself subject to penalties.

If you have any additional questions about ATEX certification, please contact us. Our vacuum experts will be happy to help.