The catastrophic explosion in the port of Tianjin in Northern China is a tragic reminder of why we have stringent Hazardous Standards and why they can never be compromised.

Astonishingly, authorities are unable to ascertain exactly what chemicals were stored at the location. Why is such basic information not at their fingertips? And even more baffling, why did it take 3 days to establish a meaningful exclusion zone?  I expect there’ll be an exhaustive inquiry into how the explosion occurred, and the inadequacy of the response.

If authorities are going to get to the bottom of this, the critical place to start is in the documentation. Here are my top 3 questions authorities need to ask to determine what rules were breached, and what rules are inadequate.

1. Where is the hazardous areas zone study?

All installations in Australia require a hazardous areas inspector to assess the raw materials in the manufacturing process – their interactions and how they react under stress. Having this information would give authorities vital information about what chemicals or gases they’re dealing with and the risk level they carry. They urgently need this information to establish safety controls for the immediate response and to determine the hazardous zoning throughout the facility. Hazardous Areas have up to 6 zoning classifications. Inside a vessel, where it is closest to the hazardous material, may be zone 0, outside the vessel, and up to 3M, would be zone 1, then zone 2 etc. So where is the hazardous zone study for this facility?

2. Where is the Hazardous Equipment Verification Dossier?

Before sign off in Australia, a comprehensive dossier detailing the installation is prepared. Within this document we identify every piece of equipment installed in every hazardous zone in the facility. We know the equipment manufacturer, model, voltage, gas grouping, temperature class, certificate number and the certifying body. Why is this important? Equipment is rated according to an Equipment Protection Level (EPL). There are 3 ratings for gas and 3 ratings for Dust. Was all the equipment installed suitable for the zoning? You’d have to assume the answer is no.

3. Where are the electrical schematics?

Electrical schematics show how the installation was completed and the method of protection used. There are 37 types of protection. For example, an Exia rated device should never explode and would be appropriate for use inside zone 0. Whereas an Exd device is designed to contain an explosion within a device and is only suitable for a zone 1. A simple example is an Exd electric motor. It is designed so that as gas builds up within the motor casing, and if ignited by the motor windings the explosion is contained within the casing. This prevents igniting the surrounding atmosphere. Was it used? We can also determine if there was adequate separation between processes. For example, the last hazardous project we installed was designed so that the most hazardous area of the plant was located outside the main plant to mitigate risk in the case of an explosion.

With this documentation, authorities are some way to finding out what rules were breached. And, going forward, what rules are inadequate. Whilst specific answers are yet to come to light, China could certainly benchmark against Australia’s exceptional standards in Hazardous Areas and explosive atmospheres. Our standards are world leading – even European ATEX certification is not valid in Australia because the testing isn’t stringent enough.

Excuse the language in this footage. Look for the crane in the bottom left corner. It highlights the sheer size of the explosion.