Understanding Key International Wiring Regulations

Knowing your standards is critical when working on international projects.

With more and more oil and gas projects being executed in areas of the world where they do not follow National Electrical Code (NEC) requirements, it is important for engineers, contractors, and designers who are responsible for building and designing these systems here in the United States to understand the standards they need to follow when building electrical packages for international projects. Listed below are some of the key documents and standards organizations to review if you plan on executing projects overseas.

IEC standards

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), based out of Switzerland, is a non-profit, non-governmental international standards organization that prepares and publishes international standards for all electrical, electronic, and related technologies — collectively known as "electrotechnology." The IEC publishes hundreds of standards covering all areas of electrical and instrumentation equipment and systems. In many cases, the IEC is the base document on which other standards are derived such as EuroNorm standards in Europe, NBR standards in Brazil, and ASNZS standards in Australia/New Zealand.

EN standards

These standards, typically known as EuroNorms, have been established for the electrical industry by CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardization), based out of Belgium. CENELEC is responsible for developing a unified set of standards that all member states of the European Union adhere to, in order to help facilitate free trade among the member states in reducing technical barriers to trade. 

Both the IEC and CENELEC, in effect, come up with voluntary standards that unless adopted by a specific country or territory have no legal standing. However, in the case of EN standards, once they are published as an official EuroNorm, they get adopted as a country-specific standard with a prefix such as BS for the United Kingdom, DS for Denmark, DIN for Germany, etc. — and at that point become legal binding standards within that country. There can be deviations between countries, but changes are limited to the annex of the country specific standard. In the case of IEC standards, countries can adopt them ad hoc or use them as the basis for a country-specific standard. Where no IEC or EN standard exists, country-specific standards come into play, which makes it important to understand which set of standards you need to follow when designing and building equipment for specific markets.

Many of the IEC and EN standards are performance-based, giving specific descriptions on how to comply and build specific products while others give guidance as to installation details similar to passages within the NEC or Canadian Electrical Code (CEC) for specific markets such as the onshore and offshore industry. For example, the IEC 60364 series of standards applies to the design, erection, and verification of electrical installations, such as those in residential premises, commercial premises, public premises, industrial premises, and other onshore installations. The IEC 60092 set of standards specifically references installation recommendations and equipment standards for marine vessels, and the IEC 61892 set of standards specifically addresses electrical installations with regard to offshore oil and gas installations.

Again, these sets of IEC standards are typically voluntary, but can be adopted in whole or in part by either countries or owner/operators as a basis for their electrical design. For example, the Norwegian NORSOK standards that are used as a basis for electrical design for offshore oil rigs off the coast of Norway are based in large part on the IEC 61892 standards.

Regarding hazardous location electrical equipment, the EN/IEC 60079 set of standards makes up the key reference documents to adhere to. Like other EN/IEC standards, some of these are performance based, such as 60079-1 equipment protection of flameproof Ex ‘d’, 60079-7 equipment protection of increased safety Ex ‘e’ , 60079-11 equipment protection of intrinsic safety Ex ‘I’, and so on. These standards are relevant to follow for OEM manufacturers or assembly package manufacturers who are building products to meet these requirements.  However, these standards do not necessarily give the complete answer as to how to apply pieces of equipment using these protection concepts, so 60079-14, the design, selection, and erection of hazardous location electrical equipment is the key standard to follow when you need to understand how to design and install an Ex electrical installation.

Johnson is the president of Source IEC in Spring, Texas. He can be reached at [email protected].

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