SGS Baseefa - a Brief History
Baseefa became part of SGS in 2011, joining a group with over 70,000 employees and 1,350 offices and laboratories throughout the world. This network of affiliates allows SGS Baseefa to operate more efficiently outside its base in the UK and to extend its offer to customers, whilst retaining its position as a world renowned certification body, principally concerned with electrical and mechanical equipment intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres.
Research work into explosions in hazardous atmospheres has been carried out at Buxton from the 1920s and SGS Baseefa is currently one of the largest organisations in the world dedicated to this type of work.
In 1985, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) formed the Electrical Equipment Certification Service (EECS) as an amalgamation of the British Approval Service for Electrical Equipment in Flammable Atmospheres (BASEEFA) - which had certified Group II (non-mining) equipment since 1967 - and the parallel service (latterly known as MECS) for Group I (mining) equipment.
EECS had offered a world-renowned certification service, principally concerned with electrical equipment intended for installation in potentially-explosive atmospheres.
Although since 1997 as the ATEX Directive grew in prominence fewer certificates carried the BASEEFA branding, the whole EECS organisation was often known colloquially as "BASEEFA".
In September 2001, the HSE announced its intention to close EECS from July, 2003. It had sought Parliamentary powers to enable it to sell the business as a going concern but, for various reasons concerning timing of legislation through Parliament, this did not prove possible.
With the announcement of closure, the staff of EECS, encouraged by a number of major customers, believed it essential that the reputation for technical excellence that they had built up over the preceding years should continue in a private organisation still based at Buxton. A number of staff from EECS invested together to form a new company to carry that reputation forward and fill the place of EECS. Baseefa (2001) Ltd. was born and started trading in March 2002.
Although the timescale was very tight, Notified Body status (with number 1180) was gained in June 2002 and by October 2002, the new company was fully operational with the ex-EECS staff forming the bulk of the then 25-strong company.
In October 2004, just two years after becoming fully operational, the company moved to its brand new facility at Staden Lane, Buxton, with full integration of laboratory and offices to ensure maximum efficiency. With the move, the trading name of the company became simply "Baseefa" and the world recognition of that brand was secure.
Three Centuries of Experience
The staff of SGS Baseefa now has a staggering total of over 300 years of expertise at the service of its various customers.
Perhaps only equalled by PTB in Germany, Baseefa is one of the few major contributors to the development of both European and International Standards in the field of protection in hazardous areas.
SGS Baseefa's General Manger, Ron Sinclair, is chairman of the British Standard Committee for Electrical Equipment in Hazardous Areas, and also chairman of the equivalent European committee. In 2009, he was appointed as chairman of ExTAG, the committee of IECEx where all the international accepted certification bodies meet to find common approaches to certification within the IECEx Scheme.
Various other members of SGS Baseefa's staff also act as experts on many committees and international working groups. There is no other body within the UK, and very few in the world, which can supply this depth and breadth of expertise. Customers also benefit directly in that they can talk in detail with those who are at the forefront of standards making and can be sure of correct interpretations.
Ron Sinclair commented: "We believe we have an obligation to help all those who need advice in satisfying sometimes oddly-worded and difficult to understand requirements in the standards. And with our vast range of expertise and experience, we are always ready to offer advice."
SGS Baseefa now employs over 30 staff at its offices, with a vast range of experience between them in the certification of equipment for use in hazardous areas.
Looking to the future
SGS Baseefa's work on the standards committees is helping to bring both European and international technical requirements into line.
Although ATEX will remain the legislative drive within Europe for some time, the IECEx Scheme is based entirely on compliance with the international IEC standards (mainly the IEC 60079 series), and this convergence of requirements is allowing the scheme to accelerate after a comparatively slow start in 1995.
Within two years of gaining formal acceptance into the scheme (transfer of the EECS membership not being possible), Baseefa had issued significantly more IECEx Certificates of Conformity than any other member body.
The direct acceptance of such certificates around the world is growing and, where there are legal hurdles (as in Europe because of ATEX), the IECEx reports can be used to create local certificates. This scheme is designed to reduce the cost of international trade and facilitate exports.
Training services have also been developed, based on the excellent conference facilities in the new Buxton headquarters building. A full range of services is being made available to all manufacturers and users of hazardous equipment, whether mandated by legislation or on a voluntary basis.
"SGS Baseefa has a firm foundation based on work in Buxton from the 1920's," commented General Manager, Ron Sinclair. "But we are also always looking forward as we work with our colleagues in other parts of SGS and also with our customers to develop further services to help them succeed in the international marketplaces of the future."
Although ATEX will remain the dominant force for a few years, it makes sense to ‘future-proof' certification work on new products by adopting an approach which allows demonstration of compliance with the requirements of both schemes.
The documentation requirements for IECEx are slightly more extensive than for ATEX, so it is easier to create an ATEX certificate from IECEx documentation rather than the other way round. If both ATEX and IECEx certificates are issued together, the cost will be almost the same as issuing an IECEx certificate on its own.
As IECEx grows in acceptability (already fully accepted in Australia, New Zealand, India and Singapore, as well as being the preferred choice where there are no legal systems), the single IECEx Certificate of Conformity will become the common currency throughout the world. In the meantime, IECEx reports from SGS Baseefa can be submitted to other IECEx certification bodies anywhere in the world to get the necessary local certification.
SGS Baseefa has also recently taken the lead in the development of two further certification schemes within the IECEx System.
Developed from an original UK EECS scheme for certifying repair workshops for electric motors, the IECEx Service Facility Certification Scheme enables those in the service and repair industry to demonstrate to their customers that equipment installed in hazardous areas can be serviced, repaired and refurbished to the specialised standards required for this type of equipment.
The IECEx Scheme for Certification of Personnel Competence was developed in response to industry requests, particularly from some of the oil exploration and production majors. It remains true that the weakest link in safety in a hazardous area is the people and their competence (or lack of it) for selecting, installing, inspecting and maintaining equipment. SGS Baseefa's particular implementation of this scheme uses a dedicated secure web site to enable participants to manage their own work experience data on line and to keep it up to date, giving them an internationally recognised qualification that is transportable throughout the world.