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July 28, 2015

What is the Difference Between Explosion Proof and Intrinsically Safe Gas Detectors?

Written by: Rebecca Erickson

It only takes a spark to start a fire or cause an explosion, especially when flammable gases or vapours are present under the right conditions. There are industries that operate in these types of hazardous environments where the potential for explosions is extremely high, such aschemical plants, oil refineries, paint shops, cleaning facilities, tanks and loading facilities for flammable gases, liquids and solids. OSHA defines hazardous locations as:

Areas where flammable liquids, gases or vapors or combustible dusts exist in sufficient quantities to produce an explosion or fire. In hazardous locations, specially designed equipment and special installation techniques must be used to protect against the explosive and flammable potential of these substances.

Two types of specially designed equipment for use in hazardous locations are explosion proof and intrinsically safe.

Explosion proof is a protection technology that guarantees the housing or enclosure has been designed and constructed in such a way that it is capable of containing, controlling and venting any possible flash or explosion. Enclosures of this kind are typically made of stainless steel or cast aluminum and are of an appropriate mass and strength that they will safely contain an explosion if flammable gases or vapours should penetrate the housing and the internal electrical components or wiring should cause an ignition. The amount of power to or from the device is not of concern.

Intrinsically safe is an explosion protection technique that ensures that the electrical circuit and its wiring is engineered in such a way that it is not capable of releasing enough energy, or producing a high enough temperature under any condition and thus is not able to cause an ignition of itself or the surrounding area. This specifically designed equipment does not require a special enclosure or housing. Instead, the amount of power the device has is typically controlled through the use of intrinsic safety barriers and as a result, this type of equipment can be used only for very low power applications.

Gas detectors for hazardous location applications must meet strict codes and standards and can be built as either explosion proof or intrinsically safe. Intrinsically safe gas detectors are very common in Europe and explosion proof is the more commonly used method in North America for fixed gas detection systems. With the rugged housing to withstand harsh environments and no limits on the types of sensors, the explosion proof gas detector can be used in a wider range of applications and in particular, for applications that require high power.



Explosion Proof

Gas Detector

Intrinsically Safe

Gas Detector

Protection Method

Contains and controls the explosion, does not prevent an internal explosion

Prevents an explosion, does not contain an explosion


Stainless steel or cast aluminum


Size, Weight

Large, heavy, often bulky

Compact, light

Power Requirements

Power is not controlled, operates at normal power levels

Power is controlled, operates on low power levels


Difficult: heavy, bulky, requires heavy conduit and seals

Easy: small and does not require expensive accessories

Maintenance & Calibration

Non-intrusive calibration may be done without disconnecting power. Power must be disconnected if opening the device.

Non-intrusive calibration may be done without disconnecting power. Power must be disconnected if opening the device.

Types of Sensors

Electrochemical, infrared, combustible/catalytic or PIDs

Electrochemical (low current sensors only)

Application Examples


Oil Refineries, Drilling rigs on oil fields,

Municipal Treatment Plants, Chemical Storage Rooms,

Loading facilities for flammable gases, liquids and solids



For suggestions on gas detection systems, indoor air quality monitors and calibration, please visit





Allen-Bradley, Rockwell Automation (October 2001) Class/Division Hazardous Location. Retrieved from http://literature.rockwellautomation.com/idc/groups/literature/documents/wp/800-wp003_-en-p.pdf

Bob Svacina and Brad Larson, Turck Inc. (April 2000). Understanding Hazardous Area Sensing. Retrieved from http://www.parrinst.com/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2011/06/Svacina-Larson_Understanding-Hazardous-Area-Sensing_Intrinsic-Safety.pdf

CorDEX Instruments Ltd. (2010). Intrinsically Safe or Explosionproof? Understanding the technology. Retrieved from http://www.transcat.com/media/pdf/cordex-is-explosion-proof.pdf

RKI Instruments, Inc. (February 19, 2008). What’s the Difference Between “Explosion Proof” & “Intrinsically Safe”. Retrieved from http://www.rkiinstruments.com/pdf/FAQ_Explosion_Proof.pdf

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