Article Archive
No Spark Zone
Offering a new line of hand tools made from special alloys, CS Unitec seeks to reduce the threat of fire and explosions when working in potentially combustible environments.
Volume 24, No. 2

On Feb. 7, 2008, an explosion rocked a sugar refinery near Savannah, GA. Days later, when the fire was extinguished and search-and-rescue operations completed, the human toll was finally known - 14 dead and dozens badly burned and injured.

As with almost every industrial disaster, it turns out the tragedy was preventable. The cause was accumulated sugar dust, which, like other forms of dust, is highly combustible. Among the many willful safety violations cited by OSHA was failure to use appropriate equipment or safeguards in a highly combustible environment.

One year later, CS Unitec of Norwalk, CT, is introducing a new line of non-sparking, non-magnetic hand tools for safe use in hot zones where hazardous, flammable or combustible vapors, dusts or residues may be present.

"We offer tools in copper-beryllium alloy, which affords the highest standard of safety, and we also have tools made from aluminum-bronze alloy, which is accepted in most applications," said Tom Kay, CS Unitec's national sales manager.

Appropriate applications include oil drilling platforms, petrochemical plants, oil refineries, natural gas installations, ammunition plants, varnish factories, sugar refineries, grain silos and mines, among others. The non-magnetic feature of these alloys also makes them ideal for working on special machinery with powerful magnets such as MRI machines, military de-mining and explosives.

"The list of tools in this new line includes fire axes, striking wrenches, flange wedges, hammers, spreaders, impact sockets, screwdrivers, shovels and anything else that would be the equivalent of normally used industrial tools, except that these are non-sparking, not made from steel," Kay said.

A chemical company in Texas dealing with repeated fires recently replaced their grinding wheels with reduced sparking models from CS Unitec, Kay said. The result has been no more fires.

"What's the cost savings?" Kay said. "Well, you don't shut the plant down and the risk to life has been reduced immensely. You really can't put a price on that."

In European Union countries, equipment allowed in an industrial environment containing an explosive atmosphere is prescribed by the ATEX (Appareils destin?s ? ?tre utilis?s en ATmosph?res EXplosibles) directives. Areas where hazardous explosive atmospheres may occur are classified by "Ex" zones. The classification given to a particular zone, and its size and location, depends on the likelihood of an explosive atmosphere occurring and its persistence if it does.

Areas classified into Ex zones (0, 1, 2 for gas-vapor-mist and 20, 21, 22 for dust) must be protected from effective sources of ignition. Equipment and protective systems intended to be used in zoned areas must meet the requirements of the directive. CS Unitec non-sparking hand tools comply with the ATEX directives for explosive zones 0, 1 and 2 (flammable gas, mists or vapors) and zones 20, 21 and 22 (combustible dusts).

"The Ex zone rating is directly engraved on the tool, which is a big safety issue," Kay said.

According to Kay, the decision by CS Unitec to introduce its new line was prompted by complaints that competitors were not keeping up with demand for tools in this category.

"They couldn't deliver the product that was needed," he said.

CS Unitec works through an established network of distributors nationwide. To learn the distributor for your area, visit the CS Unitec web site at


P: (979) 690-7559
F: (979) 690-7562

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