As a business that works with electrical equipment, one of the most critical safety standards to be aware of is the National Electrical Code (NEC) — especially its classifications for hazardous areas and locations.

Willis Electrical Sales of Texas (WEST), a family-owned and customer-centered business, understands the importance of workplace safety, especially when electrical equipment is involved.

We also take guidelines such as the NEC seriously and are committed to adhering to them — and helping our customers do the same.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide. Everything you need to know about the NEC and its specific rules is explained below.

What Are the Different Types of Hazardous Environments

What Is the NEC?

Let’s start with the basics. What is the NEC?

The National Electrical Code is a set of standards that ensure the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment in the United States.

It is part of the National Fire Code series, which is published by the National Fire Protection Association.

The primary purpose of the NEC is to protect people and property from the various hazards that may arise from electricity use (think fires, explosions, etc.).

It also provides safety guidelines for designing, installing, and inspecting electrical systems.

How Does the NEC Classify Areas?

How Does the NEC Classify Areas?

The NEC classifies areas based on the potential presence of hazardous conditions, aiding in determining the most appropriate electrical equipment and wiring methods for specific locations.

Each class is further split into two divisions. The general classifications are outlined below:

Class I (Flammable Gases or Vapors)

Class one is divided into these groups:

  • Division 1: This is an area where flammable gases or vapors are present continuously, intermittently, or periodically during normal operations.
  • Division 2: This is an area where flammable gases or vapors are handled, processed, or used. However, they are generally confined within closed systems and are present only in case of an accidental release.

Class II (Combustible Dust)

This class is also divided into two groups:

  • Division 1: This is an area where combustible dust is present continuously, intermittently, or periodically during normal operations.
  • Division 2: This is an area where combustible dust is handled, processed, or used, but it is typically confined within closed systems and is present only in case of an accidental release.

Class III (Ignitable Fibers and Flyings)

As you might guess, Class III is also broken down into two divisions:

  • Division 1: This is an area where ignitable fibers or materials that produce combustible flyings are present continuously, intermittently, or periodically during normal operations.
  • Division 2: This is an area where ignitable fibers or materials that produce combustible flyings are handled, processed, or used. They are normally confined within closed systems and are present only in case of an accidental release.
  • Non-Hazardous (Unclassified) Locations

This last classification refers to areas where flammable or combustible materials are not likely to be present — or at least not present in quantities sufficient to produce an explosive or ignitable mixture.

NEC Group Ratings

NEC Group Ratings

But wait, there’s more! In addition to classes and divisions, the NEC also uses group ratings to classify various hazardous substances based on their ignition and explosion characteristics.

The group ratings are typically associated with Class I locations and are broken into these four categories (ranked from most to least hazardous):

  • Group A: This group includes acetylene, a gas that poses a high risk of ignition and is the most easily ignited of all gases.
  • Group B: This group includes hydrogen and other gases with similar ignition characteristics.
  • Group C: This group includes ethylene and other gases with ignition characteristics higher than Group B but lower than Group D.
  • Group D: This group includes common industrial flammable gases such as methane, propane, and butane.

Additional Standards

Additional Standards

The National Electrical Code is one of the most vital standards for organizations dealing with electrical equipment to be aware of. There are other guidelines and certifications for businesses like yours to consider, though, including the three listed below.

UL

UL, or Underwriters Laboratories, is a globally recognized independent safety science company and certification organization. UL provides testing, inspection, certification, and safety consulting services for a wide range of products, systems, and materials.

The organization was founded in 1894 and has since played a crucial role in developing safety standards and promoting product safety.

IECEx

IECEx is short for the International Electrotechnical Commission System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres. It is an international certification system for electrical and electronic equipment used in potentially explosive atmospheres.

The IECEx system is designed to facilitate international trade, providing a single set of standards and a globally recognized certification process for products used in hazardous locations where there is a risk of explosion.

ATEX

ATEX refers to a European regulatory framework governing equipment and protective systems designed for use in potentially explosive atmospheres. The term is an abbreviation of “Atmosphères Explosibles,” which translates to explosive atmospheres in French.

The ATEX mandate came to be following a 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which disbursed thousands of gallons of oil into the water. That disaster increased worldwide awareness of the dangers of transporting hazardous materials.

How to Protect Electrical Equipment in Hazardous Areas

How to Protect Electrical Equipment in Hazardous Areas

Awareness of standards, including those laid out by the NEC, UL, IECEx, and ATEX, is critical to protecting equipment and, more importantly, protecting people from harm.

It’s not enough to know how to classify different hazardous areas and locations, though. You must also know how to make them safer. That’s where our team at Willis Electrical comes in.

Willis Electrical Offers Intrinsically Safe Equipment and Solutions

Explained below are some of the most beneficial solutions we offer to help you protect electrical equipment (and those who use it) in hazardous areas:

Purge Panels

Purge Panels

Purge panels provide a safe environment for electrical equipment located in hazardous areas — specifically those where flammable gasses, vapors, or combustible dust may be present.

The primary purpose of purge panels is to prevent the ignition of potentially explosive materials within enclosures or cabinets that house electrical equipment. They “purge” the enclosure with a non-flammable, inert gas (such as nitrogen or clean air) to remove or dilute any potentially hazardous gasses or dust.

Once the purging process is complete, the enclosure is pressurized to prevent the entrance of hazardous materials from the surrounding environment.

Willis offers a variety of purge panels for you to choose from, including VFD control panels, PLC panels, and multi-motor control panels.

Explosion-Proof Enclosures

Explosion-Proof Enclosures

Explosion-proof enclosures are specially designed and constructed containers or cabinets that house electrical components and equipment in environments where there is a risk of explosion.

The name says it all. The purpose of these enclosures is to contain any potential explosion and prevent it from igniting the surrounding hazardous atmosphere.

Willis offers an extensive range of explosion-proof enclosures, from starter panels, panel boards, and pendant stations to circuit breakers, VFD panels, and meter enclosures.

Final thoughts

Final Thoughts

Prioritizing safety in hazardous environments is essential to keeping your business running smoothly. Keep the information shared above in mind so you can accurately classify different locations in your facility and keep your employees safe.

If you’re looking for tools that can help you make your workplace safer, Willis Electrical Sales of Texas can help.

We are a family-owned and operated company offering purge panels, intrinsically safe panels, explosion-proof enclosures, and more solutions to help your business run safely and smoothly.

Contact us today to learn more about our certifications and solutions or to receive a personalized quote.