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Wireless Data Radios: Overcoming Obstacles in Explosive & Hazardous Environments

Updated: Jun 14


Worker turning valves at an industrial site

Working in hazardous locations is a fact of life for personnel in industrial enterprises. They often have to contend with flammable substances, volatile temperatures, dynamic environments, and remote locations. To safely navigate these challenges, reliable, resilient communication is a must.


This is where wireless data radios, and particularly intrinsically safe ones, come in. These help mitigate the risk of explosion or mishap in extreme environments. They’re also increasingly a requirement by law. The U.S., EU, and most other industrial economies have put in place a range of guidelines and certifications that have to be met by enterprises that want to engage in potentially dangerous or explosive activity.


Altogether, this makes intrinsically safe data radios, such as those with Class 1 Div 2 ratings, a necessity. Here’s everything you need to know about these radios.


What Is an Explosive Environment?

An explosive environment is one where the atmosphere contains a mix of dangerous or combustible substances. This includes fuel, gas, flammable vapors and fibers, and even combustible dusts. Due to their volatile nature, there is a high risk of a spark or instance of heat generation resulting in an explosion.


These conditions are not uncommon in places like oil refineries, processing plants and factories, firefighting units, chemical plants, coal mines, grain silos, and others. Without the right equipment, all of these workplaces are susceptible to fire-related mishaps.


Typically, three conditions must be met for there to be an explosion:


  • Presence of explosive substances

  • Presence of oxygen

  • Presence of an ignition source that might provide an electrical or mechanical spark or simply high heat or light energy


The last point is where intrinsically safe data radios, including those with Class 1 Div 2 ratings, come in. Conventional two-way radios tend to generate heat and sparks during normal usage and are a liability in dangerous work environments. Intrinsically safe equipment is designed to prevent these situations.


What Is an Intrinsically Safe Data Radio?

Intrinsically safe (IS) communication gear does not emit the kind of electrical or thermal energy under normal usage that would cause the ignition of a flammable substance. Simply being waterproof or gas-proof does not make a piece of equipment intrinsically safe. It must meet all the requirements set out by the certifying body. 


Moreover, the rating is not limited to just the radio device; it also includes associated gear, including batteries, speakers, microphones, antennas, headsets, and earpieces. Testing is usually done by independent laboratories to determine if a radio deserves an IS rating.


How Is It Different From a Non-Incendive Radio?

Non-incendive equipment operates according to the same general principles as intrinsically safe equipment. However, there’s a significant difference between the two.


Non-incendive devices do not cause ignition under “normal” operating conditions. By this definition, lots of standard equipment would qualify as “non-incendive.” But they’re only allowed in environments where the risk of explosive material being present is very low. By contrast, intrinsically safe data radios are allowed to operate in areas where explosive substances are continuously present.


These radios are designed to prevent the slightest possibility of a spark during use. This includes their batteries and circuits which are specially constructed to prevent sparks or short circuits. Neither does the equipment generate any thermal energy that could lead to ignition.


Even the enclosure of intrinsically safe data radios is made of special materials that do not create static electricity, sparks, or friction. These requirements apply to any accessories, such as earphones and microphones as well. 


Wireless data radios

Intrinsically Safe Classifications

Intrinsically safe radios and equipment carry various classification ratings, such as Class 1 Div 2, that tell you what kind of environments they’re suitable to operate in. It’s vital to keep abreast of these classifications to understand where you can and cannot use certain equipment. 


There are two levels of classification: classes (with subgroups) and divisions.


Classes:

  • Class I: Flammable gasses, vapors, and liquids

  • Group A: Acetylene

  • Group B: Hydrogen

  • Group C: Ethylene

  • Group D: Methane


  • Class II: Combustible Dust

  • Group E: Conductive dust

  • Group F: (Overground) Combustible carbon dust

  • Group G: Grain dust


  • Class III: Ignitable Fibers and Flyings

  • No sub-groups


Divisions

  • Division 1: Atmospheres where ignitable gasses, vapors, and liquids can be continuously present


  • Division 2: Atmospheres where ignitable, gasses, vapors, and liquids are not likely to be continuously present


So, equipment with a Class 1 Div 2 rating, for example, would be safe to operate in areas that might occasionally see instances of limited emissions of flammable gasses, vapors, and liquids. The operating principle is that it is very unlikely for an explosive atmosphere and equipment malfunction to occur simultaneously. 


The certification standards for intrinsically safe data radios are set out by designated agencies. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) promotes the IECEx explosion-proof certification to standardize fire-proof equipment worldwide.


In the U.S., the National Electrical Code (NEC) sets out the necessary standards, which largely correspond to the IEC standards as well as to other national directives, such as the EU’s ATEX and U.K.’s UKCA.


Other Benefits of Wireless Data Radios in Hazardous Environments

Wireless data radios—intrinsically safe and otherwise—carry a host of advantages for challenging and hazardous work environments. They’re quickly becoming the operating standard for these sorts of workplaces. Here's why.


1. Remote Connectivity

The defining advantage of wireless Ethernet data radios is that they facilitate industrial data connectivity in areas where commercial data reception is poor or non-existent. This includes remote locations, such as oil rigs in the middle of the sea, military or energy installations in isolated landscapes or deserts, as well as areas with rugged land terrain. 


Ethernet technology provides the software necessary for intrinsically safe data radio hardware to perform flawlessly.


2. Real-Time Supervision

Wireless radios are preferred by industrial operators in situations where real-time monitoring is of paramount importance. For instance, oil and gas companies drilling into the seabed often need real-time sensor readings of various equipment, such as pressure gauges, heat sensors, and more. This allows facility managers to monitor the condition of their equipment and rapidly respond when the readings exceed acceptable parameters. 


Intrinsically safe wireless data radios, such as those with Class 1 Div 2 ratings, can be used to operate such sensors in potentially explosive environments to avoid any undue risks.


3. Improved Performance

Ethernet wireless radios are purpose-built to support the kind of robust connectivity that is simply not possible with, say, traditional serial radios. You can transmit huge volumes of data and do it at blazing speed, which is often considered to be a handicap of serial technology. 


Furthermore, Ethernet radios can support back and forth communication on multiple channels, simultaneously. This means that if you have multiple teams working in an area on separate objectives, they can all communicate with the necessary stakeholders on different channels, connected by a host radio.


4. Worker Safety

The principal objective of intrinsically safe wireless data radios is to secure the safety of workers as well as that of the equipment. Good communication is non-negotiable when operating in hazardous conditions. Not just the atmosphere, but the heavy machinery and possibly confined spaces all present serious challenges. 


Real-time monitoring can help alleviate these issues by helping supervisors track the condition of equipment as well as the location of workers. It helps managers precisely log their employees’ operative hours and ensure they aren’t overworked and that much more susceptible to making a mistake. 


5. Cost Savings

Using intrinsically safe equipment and wireless data radios has the potential to create tremendous cost savings for enterprises. For starters, wireless networks eliminate the need for laying down cables and physical wires over extended distances, sometimes miles of broken land. They can also be easily reconfigured to scale with your company and extend your investment into the equipment you’ve bought.


Finally, by preventing mishaps, they also help to secure other equipment and machinery and save you the cost of replacing them. 


6. Disaster Recovery

Intrinsically safe wireless data radios offer you flawless data integrity in situations where it’s particularly important. Ethernet networks don’t lose data on transmission. In fact, the network will wait to secure packets of lost data before it allows further transmission.


What’s more, Ethernet radio links provide an effective disaster recovery mechanism in the event of an accident that severs communication cables. Ethernet ensures you don’t suffer any downtime. 


See the Highest Standards of Security With XetaWave Radios

XetaWave is an industry leader and a trusted partner for some of the country’s leading enterprises and utilities for high-performance wireless radios. Expect top-quality equipment from a proven company with over 30 years of history. All our hardware is entirely designed, manufactured, tested, and supported in the U.S. Speak to an expert to see how our intrinsically safe data radios, including those with Class 1 Div 2 ratings, can help you operate seamlessly in high-risk environments.






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