What are flashlight ratings, what do they mean, and why should fire professionals pay attention to them?
Flashlight manufacturers across the country are increasingly spending a lot of research and development time to make products that meet some very strict standards that few people understand. Choosing the best, safest and most suitable portable lighting product for the application involves many factors, including the performance of the flashlight in hazardous environments. The environment may be the result of fire conditions, or it may be dangerous by definition.
The National Electrical Code (NEC) uses the following terms to define hazardous locations: category, division, group, and temperature code.
The rating indicates that an explosive atmosphere may be present. Class I indicates the presence of flammable gases, vapors, or liquids (for example, around or near propane tanks). Class II indicates that combustible dust may be present (for example, around or near a granary). Class III indicates that combustible fibers and flying debris may be present (for example, in manufacturing facilities that contain metal debris in the air).
Division defines the location of an explosive environment when the equipment is operating. Zone 1 is an environment with an explosive atmosphere under normal operating conditions (for example, in oil or gas tanks or in certain confined spaces). Part 2 specifies environments where explosive atmospheres are unlikely to exist under normal conditions-for example, manufacturing facilities where flammable substances such as gasoline flow through pipelines. Explosive materials only appear when there is a problem (for example, a pipe leak).
The group represents the ignition-related characteristics of the explosive environment that exists. The group ranges from A to G, and includes atmospheres containing acetylene to atmospheres containing flour, starch, or grain dust.
The temperature code indicates the auto-ignition temperature of a particular flammable material in the environment. This code represents the maximum surface temperature allowed by the equipment under normal operating conditions. The temperature code ranges from T1 (temperature less than or equal to 450°C) to T6 (temperature less than or equal to 85°C).
According to NEC, equipment brought into hazardous locations must meet specific requirements or "protection methods." Equipment intended for use in Zone 1 must be explosion-proof, intrinsically safe, or purged/pressurized. Division 2 area equipment must be non-combustible, non-sparking, purged/pressurized, hermetically sealed or sealed.
Underwriters Laboratories (UL) defines intrinsically safe equipment (zone 1 requirement) as “equipment that cannot cause flammable or combustible material mixtures in the air to ignite under specified conditions, any spark or thermal effect in all circuits.” This means that intrinsically safe equipment must not cause an explosion under all conditions, including damage to the flashlight bulb and exposure of the hot filament to flammable materials.
On the other hand, a non-combustion circuit (required in the case of Part 2) is "a circuit or a steam-air mixture that cannot ignite the specified gas or vapor-air mixture under the specified test conditions any arc or thermal effect produced under the expected operating conditions of the equipment."
Therefore, the standards for intrinsically safe equipment are much stricter than those for non-combustion equipment. In order to meet the safety requirements of Part 1 and achieve intrinsic safety, manufacturers need to strictly limit the application of the equipment.
The flashlight must be rated and listed before it can be used in hazardous locations because it is considered a source of ignition. The flashlight generates heat through electrical energy, and its filament can burn at extremely high temperatures and can "heat". Add air and dangerous atmosphere, and you have a way to ignite.
Since equipment may be an ignition source for explosions, manufacturers must ensure that their equipment meets all applicable safety standards. Usually, this information appears in the form of ratings or lists determined by a third-party organization, indicating that the device has passed compliance checks.
In the United States, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Factory Mutual Research Corporation (FMRC) are two third-party testing organizations.
UL is an independent non-profit testing laboratory designed to investigate materials, devices, products, equipment, structures, methods, and systems related to hazards affecting life and property. The registered UL mark on the product means that the manufacturer’s product samples have been checked for compliance with all applicable safety standards. These standards are provided by dozens of governments and code/standards organizations, such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the American Testing and Safety Association. Material (ASTM).
FMRC is a well-known international third-party testing organization that manufacturers can use to obtain independent approval to prove the reliability of their products and services. The test is conducted in accordance with the Factory Mutual standard or other designated national or international standards, and the FM mark is considered the highest standard. Like the UL list, products with the FM mark clearly indicate the scope of use of the product.
As NEC has done in the United States, several organizations around the world have defined hazardous locations. In Canada, it is the Canadian Electrical Code (CEC). The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) mark indicates that all safety standards applicable to Canada have been met.
In Europe and around the world, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has established international standards. For manufacturers selling in the European market, their products must carry the European Community CE mark. The European Union has implemented a system to protect the health and safety of users of finished products, just like the United States does with ANSI, NFPA and other safety standards. Epsilon-X is another European standard that represents compliance with all applicable safety requirements specified by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN) and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standards (CENELEC). All EU member states recognize this mark as a legal way of entry under the European Directive on Potentially Explosive Environments.
The firefighter must be sure that every tool he has, including his flashlight, can work when, where, and when needed. He is responsible for choosing the best equipment for any danger he may face. A firefighter will not use the SCBA, which is known for its failure, to enter a burning structure. He should not enter such an area with the safest and most reliable flashlight. The working space of firefighters determines the performance requirements of the flashlight.
Knowing the division level of the event area, whether there is dangerous gas, whether it is a confined space, and whether a permit is required will determine your choice of flashlight.
RAY SHARRAH is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Streamlight, Inc., a company that makes flashlights for emergency services.
Merely choosing the right equipment does not guarantee your safety; it must also be used correctly. For example, if battery-powered equipment is used improperly in a hazardous location, there is a risk of explosion. The explosion may be caused by the abuse of alkaline batteries, which will produce excessive hydrogen emissions. These emissions may accumulate in the battery case without ventilation and may cause the battery or battery case to rupture.
To prevent this from happening, firefighters should take the following precautions: