Explosion-proof lighting forms an integral part of equipment safety when operating in areas that have been deemed hazardous locations. The presence or potential presence of flammable or explosive gases, vapors and materials in the hazardous workplace presents a serious threat to the safety of workers in that area, and the structures, goods and health of nearby homes, businesses and people. In many cases, the presence of flammable materials is a necessary part of normal operations. As a result, preventing ignition of these materials becomes a critical part of maintaining safety while they are present.

In most hazardous locations, explosion-proof lighting is integrally installed and part of a comprehensive approach to safety that benefits from regular inspection and maintenance. Such lighting is generally well-suited to the environments at hand and performs quite well. The wiring, controls and power supply for such systems are likewise matched through classification to such lighting systems in order to meet compliance and help provide the highest degree of safe operation possible. However, it is not possible to utilize such integrally installed lighting systems in all hazardous locations. Locations where work is not so routinely performed, but the potential for ignition exists, present new challenges for the workers who must enter them.

Portable illumination in a hazardous space

Any work area can become a hazardous location if flammable gases or vapors are present. The structure or location need not be the usual control area or work floor within a building in order to require explosion-proof protection. Items such as storage tanks in refinery operations, sealed rail car tanks, ship holds and containers in the commercial marine transport industry, paint spray booths, power plants and the like all hold the potential for the presence of flammable materials and atmospheres when working within or nearby to them. Servicing, maintenance and repair of such containers and structures often requires worker ingress, and although the contents may be removed, flammable vapors and gases may remain which can still potentially be ignited by the electrical tools and lighting workers bring with them. As a result, it is necessary to provide portable illumination which holds the same explosion-proof approval and certification as normally integrally mounted lighting.

" It is usually safest toconnect the device to a
properly rated explosionproofextension cord,then connect the cord toan outlet outside of the
hazardous area. "

Portable explosion-proof lighting is constructed similarly to fixtures designed for permanent mounting, but there are a couple notable differences that must be taken into consideration. Since such lighting is portable, providing power for the lighting will require external cords and connections rather than the protected conduit and wiring permanently mounted fixtures use. This presents the first important difference that can cause potential problems. The primary problem with such cords and connections is that, every time the device is connected and disconnected, it is possible for arcing and sparking to occur at the point of connection. As a result, it is usually safest to connect the device to a properly rated explosion-proof extension cord, then connect the cord to an outlet outside of the hazardous area. In this way the operator completely removes the potential for sparking that could ignite a flammable atmosphere.

Another important consideration is the durability of the portable lighting in question. Due to its very nature, portable lighting is subject to a great deal more abuse and rough handling than a permanently mounted fixture. Portable light fixtures are prone to being knocked over or dropped as well as receive accidental shocks and impacts from the high amount of activity occurring around them. The problem here is that although a light may be properly classified, it is possible to damage the unit, or even shatter a bulb or lens, which can then result in an extremely unsafe condition as the hot parts of the lamp can be exposed to the flammable outside atmosphere. This potential is greatest with explosion-proof lights, which rely on incandescent or HID bulbs for their light output, as both these lamp styles utilize a fragile glass bulb which is prone to breaking or shattering under heavy impacts.

One great way to avoid potential shattering or exposure of hot lamps to hazardous atmospheres is to utilize newer portable explosion-proof LED lamps. These lamps run far cooler than HID or incandescent lamps, and are much more durable. LEDs have no fragile glass or wire filaments to break or shatter, and their solid state design can withstand substantial shocks and impacts without any serious degradation in performance or protection.

Invest in the benefits

The use of portable lighting within hazardous locations has grown significantly over the last decade as regulations continue to tighten and OSHA pays ever closer attention to operations in potentially hazardous industries. By paying an extra bit of attention to how portable lighting is chosen and operated, workers can maintain safety and compliance while reaping all the benefits that portable explosion-proof lighting holds.