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What is considered hazardous workplace?

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The National Electrical Code (NEC) defines hazardous locations as those areas "where fire or explosion hazards may exist due to flammable gases or vapors, flammable liquids, combustible dust, or ignitable fibers or flyings."

A substantial part of the NEC is devoted to the discussion of hazardous locations. That's because electrical equipment can become a source of ignition in these volatile areas. Articles 500 through 504, and 510 through 517 provide classification and installation standards for the use of electrical equipment in these locations. The writers of the NEC developed a short-hand method of describing areas classified as hazardous locations. One of the purposes of this discussion is to explain this classification system. Hazardous locations are classified in three ways by the National Electrical Code: TYPE, CONDITION, and NATURE.

Hazardous Location Types

Class I Locations

According to the NEC, there are three types of hazardous locations. The first type of hazard is one which is created by the presence of flammable gases or vapors in the air, such as natural gas or gasoline vapor. When these materials are found in the atmosphere, a potential for explosion exists, which could be ignited if an electrical or other source of ignition is present. The Code writers have referred to this first type of hazard as Class I. So, a Class I Hazardous Location is one in which flammable gases or vapors may be present in the air in sufficient quantities to be explosive or ignitable. Some typical Class I locations are:
  • Petroleum refineries, and gasoline storage and dispensing areas;
  • Dry cleaning plants where vapors from cleaning fluids can be present;
  • Spray finishing areas;
  • Aircraft hangars and fuel servicing areas; and
  • Utility gas plants, and operations involving storage and handling of liquified petroleum gas or natural gas.
  • All of these are Class I . . . gas or vapor . . . hazardous locations. All require special Class I hazardous location equipment.
Class II Locations

The second type of hazard listed by the National Electrical Code are those areas made hazardous by the presence of combustible dust. These are referred to in the Code as "Class II Locations." Finely pulverized material, suspended in the atmosphere, can cause as powerful an explosion as one occurring at a petroleum refinery. Some typical Class II locations are:
  • Grain elevators;
  • Flour and feed mills;
  • Plants that manufacture, use or store magnesium or aluminum powders;
  • Producers of plastics, medicines and fireworks;
  • Producers of starch or candies;
  • Spice-grinding plants, sugar plants and cocoa plants; and
  • Coal preparation plants and other carbon handling or processing areas.
Class III Locations

Class III hazardous locations, according to the NEC, are areas where there are easily-ignitable fibers or flyings present, due to the types of materials being handled, stored, or processed. The fibers and flyings are not likely to be suspended in the air, but can collect around machinery or on lighting fixtures and where heat, a spark or hot metal can ignite them. Some typical Class III locations are:
  • Textile mills, cotton gins;
  • Cotton seed mills, flax processing plants; and
  • Plants that shape, pulverize or cut wood and create sawdust or flyings.
Hazardous Location Conditions

In addition to the types of hazardous locations, the National Electrical Code also concerns itself with the kinds of conditions under which these hazards are present. The Code specifies that hazardous material may exist in several different kinds of conditions which, for simplicity, can be described as, first, normal conditions, and, second, abnormal conditions.

In the normal condition, the hazard would be expected to be present in everyday production operations or during frequent repair and maintenance activity.

When the hazardous material is expected to be confined within closed containers or closed systems and will be present only through accidental rupture, breakage or unusual faulty operation, the situation could be called "abnormal."

The Code writers have designated these two kinds of conditions very simply, as Division 1 - normal and Division 2 - abnormal. Class I, Class II and Class III hazardous locations can be either Division 1 or Division 2.

Good examples of Class I, Division 1 locations would be the areas near open dome loading facilities or adjacent to relief valves in a petroleum refinery, because the hazardous material would be present during normal plant operations.

Closed storage drums containing flammable liquids in an inside storage room would not normally allow the hazardous vapors to escape into the atmosphere. But, what happens if one of the containers is leaking? You've got a Division 2 -abnormal - condition . . . a Class I, Division 2 hazardous location.

So far we've covered the three types of hazardous locations: Class I - gas or vapor

Class II - dust, and

Class III - fibers and flyings. And secondly, kinds of conditions: Division 1 - normal conditions, and

Division 2 - abnormal conditions.

Now let's move on to a discussion of the nature of hazardous substances.

Nature of Hazardous Substances

The gases and vapors of Class I locations are broken into four groups by the Code: A, B, C, and D. These materials are grouped according to the ignition temperature of the substance, its explosion pressure, and other flammable characteristics.

The only substance in Group A is acetylene. Acetylene makes up only a very small percentage of hazardous locations. Consequently, little equipment is available for this type of location. Acetylene is a gas with extremely high explosion pressures.

Group B is another relatively small segment of classified areas. This group includes hydrogen and other materials with similar characteristics. If you follow certain specific restrictions in the Code, some of these Group B locations, other than hydrogen, can actually be satisfied with Group C and Group D equipment.

Group C and Group D are by far the most usual Class I groups. They comprise the greatest percentage of all Class I hazardous locations. Found in Group D are many of the most common flammable substances such as butane, gasoline, natural gas and propane.

In Class II - dust locations - we find the hazardous materials in Groups E, F, and G. These groups are classified according to the ignition temperature and the conductivity of the hazardous substance. Conductivity is an important consideration in Class II locations, especially with metal dusts.

Metal dusts are categorized in the Code as Group E. Included here are aluminum and magnesium dusts and other metal dusts of similar nature.

Group F atmospheres contain such materials as carbon black, charcoal dust, coal and coke dust.

In Group G we have grain dusts, flour, starch, cocoa, and similar types of materials.
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Hazardous Location Conditions

In addition to the types of hazardous locations, the National Electrical Code also concerns itself with the kinds of conditions under which these hazards are present. The Code specifies that hazardous material may exist in several different kinds of conditions which, for simplicity, can be described as, first, normal conditions, and, second, abnormal conditions.

In the normal condition, the hazard would be expected to be present in everyday production operations or during frequent repair and maintenance activity.

When the hazardous material is expected to be confined within closed containers or closed systems and will be present only through accidental rupture, breakage or unusual faulty operation, the situation could be called "abnormal."

The Code writers have designated these two kinds of conditions very simply, as Division 1 - normal and Division 2 - abnormal. Class I, Class II and Class III hazardous locations can be either Division 1 or Division 2.

Good examples of Class I, Division 1 locations would be the areas near open dome loading facilities or adjacent to relief valves in a petroleum refinery, because the hazardous material would be present during normal plant operations.

Closed storage drums containing flammable liquids in an inside storage room would not normally allow the hazardous vapors to escape into the atmosphere. But, what happens if one of the containers is leaking? You've got a Division 2 -abnormal - condition . . . a Class I, Division 2 hazardous location.

So far we've covered the three types of hazardous locations:

Class I - gas or vapor

Class II - dust, and

Class III - fibers and flyings.

And secondly, kinds of conditions:

Division 1 - normal conditions, and

Division 2 - abnormal conditions.

Now let's move on to a discussion of the nature of hazardous substances.

Nature of Hazardous Substances

The gases and vapors of Class I locations are broken into four groups by the Code: A, B, C, and D. These materials are grouped according to the ignition temperature of the substance, its explosion pressure, and other flammable characteristics.

The only substance in Group A is acetylene. Acetylene makes up only a very small percentage of hazardous locations. Consequently, little equipment is available for this type of location. Acetylene is a gas with extremely high explosion pressures.

Group B is another relatively small segment of classified areas. This group includes hydrogen and other materials with similar characteristics. If you follow certain specific restrictions in the Code, some of these Group B locations, other than hydrogen, can actually be satisfied with Group C and Group D equipment.

Group C and Group D are by far the most usual Class I groups. They comprise the greatest percentage of all Class I hazardous locations. Found in Group D are many of the most common flammable substances such as butane, gasoline, natural gas and propane.

In Class II - dust locations - we find the hazardous materials in Groups E, F, and G. These groups are classified according to the ignition temperature and the conductivity of the hazardous substance. Conductivity is an important consideration in Class II locations, especially with metal dusts.

Metal dusts are categorized in the Code as Group E. Included here are aluminum and magnesium dusts and other metal dusts of similar nature.

Group F atmospheres contain such materials as carbon black, charcoal dust, coal and coke dust.

In Group G we have grain dusts, flour, starch, cocoa, and similar types of materials.




The National Electrical Code is the "Bible" of the Electrical Industry, and the primary source of reference for hazardous locations. The NEC is also the basis for OSHA standard 1926.407, Hazardous (Classified) Locations. There are several OSHA standards that require the installation of electrical wiring and equipment in hazardous (classified) locations according to the requirements of Subpart K, Electrical. The NEC should be consulted as a supplement to the OSHA standards for additional background information concerning hazardous locations.

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