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Practical Guide: Earthing Systems

Electrostatics is a well-known everyday phenomenon in many industrial processes. Unfortunately, it can also be hazardous, as electrostatic discharges can cause explosions. Earthing or grounding cables are essential for avoiding explosions caused by sparking and the accumulation of static electricity.

Earthing and grounding kits can monitor and discharge static build-up around machines, containers, and equipment when flammable or explosive liquids are present. It's best practice to use earthing equipment when there's a risk of sparking or static accumulation near hazardous, volatile chemicals. This risk is present in most industrial and research companies. It should be particularly monitored where pumps, dispensing containers, and filling containers are used for flammable or explosive substances.

In our practical guide, you will discover how to effectively avoid electrostatic charges in hazardous areas and which earthing system is right for you.

Protection against electrostatic charges in hazardous areas

At flammable and combustible product processing sites, the flow of gases, liquids, and solids will likely generate electrostatic charges, such as filling and emptying containers and pumping, stirring, or mixing fluids. Due to their high potential for danger, electrostatic charges are considered a possible ignition source in potentially flammable and explosive atmospheres. The protection of employees and assets must not be left to chance.

The most effective and practicable method of preventing a fire or explosion from electrostatic charges is to exclude the electrostatic charging of equipment, vehicles, or even people from the outset. Afterward, only conductive or dissipative objects or devices will be used in potentially explosive areas. Depending on the ignition probability, these must be earthed or grounded. This allows electrostatic charges to effectively and reliably dissipate from the EX atmosphere.

  • The grounding requirement also applies to people as well as to conductive or dissipative media, e.g. liquids or bulk goods
  • Grounding and equipotential bonding must be reliable and durable and withstand the expected stresses, in particular due to corrosion
  • Earthing terminals must be installed before starting work and remain in place until all dangerous discharges have been drained (pick-up devices or grounding clamps must be provided)
  • A separate operating instruction must be available for work on earthing and equipotential bonding in potentially explosive areas
  • People working in these areas must be instructed accordingly so that they know and use the equipment provided for earthing and equipotential bonding (it is especially important to note the typical ground faults, eg subsequent earthing of already loaded objects or equipment)
  • Equipment for earthing and equipotential bonding must be checked regularly (by qualified people for testing)

In practice, several procedural rules must be followed to protect against ignition by electrostatic charges. An essential factor is that electrically conductive system components (including mobile system components, people, and vehicles) are connected to a "grounding source," a verified grounding point. Such a grounding point relates to the earth's mass and discharges electrostatic charges from the plant parts to the earth. The amount of charge generated by the process does not matter because the planet can balance positive and negative charges.

The 2 levels of grounding - and which solution suits you best

Process equipment must be effectively grounded to ensure adequate protection against electrostatic ignition. Various systems are available for this purpose, which can be divided into three safety levels.

When selecting a suitable earthing system, operators should consider their risk assessment.

Level 1: Passive Grounding

Often, grounding is achieved using single-core, passive earthing systems. These usually consist of a grounding cable and clamping pieces, establishing contact between the object and the grounding point. Here you have the choice between screwable C-clamps and alligator clips, grounding clamps and clamps on the object side as well as eyelets as a connection option for earthing strips. However, ensuring contact with the object with every pair of pliers is impossible. Plant components and equipment may contain paints, coatings, product deposits, or rust layers, which may prevent low-resistance contact between the earthing clamp and the components to be earthed. In these cases, a stable electrical contact can only be made if the grounding clip can penetrate the contact-inhibiting layers. The necessary "bite resistance" is provided here by tested stainless steel pliers with tungsten carbide tips, which can penetrate through coatings and dirt. These ATEX and FM-certified models ensure they do not contain potential ignition hazards and have sufficient clip pressure and electrical continuity of less than 1 ohm.

Passive systems are a low-cost grounding option for many standard applications. A disadvantage, however, is the assurance of contact. Not only degradations due to product deposits or protective coatings can lead to an unsafe connection, but also a bad condition of the cable connections, corroded ground connections or cable breaks. This requires an exceptionally high level of care in the application. The operator is responsible for regularly checking the earthing systems for their safety. This includes the resistance check in the discharge path. However, since this often does not happen in practice, a bad ground connection is often not recognized immediately.

Sufficient for many standard applications
Repeated independent testing and monitoring of the earthing connection necessary

Level 2: Active Grounding with monitoring

In practice, safe grounding is not always carried out consistently and reliably. This also applies to mobile objects (for example, drums, containers, or IBCs) that are always to be re-grounded. Earthing clamp contact may be affected not only by by-product deposits or protective coatings, but cable connections may also be rusted or otherwise in poor condition, so an insecure link may not be apparent at first glance. Active earthing systems with status displays have been developed for efficient control, especially for more considerable hazards. These monitor the connection with the object subject to electrostatic charging and optically signal to the employees whether there is a secure connection between the objects or with the tested grounding point. Employees know they can safely complete the process when the indicator turns green. The grounding system continuously monitors the ground loop to ensure that the electrostatic charges generated by the process are safely dissipated from the potentially explosive atmosphere.

The ever-pulsing green LED on one of the brackets signals that there is a gap between the object in question, e.g. a barrel, and the site's verified grounding network has a resistance of 10 ohms or less. If the secure ground connection is interrupted, the LED indicator goes off. The employees can, therefore, clearly recognize that there is a risk of static discharge and that the filling process must be interrupted. Now, the earth connection must be checked before the filling process continues.

People responsible for measures to protect against electrostatic ignition hazards usually have to choose between simple brackets and cables and monitored earthing systems. The latter offer advantages in many ways. On the one hand, they offer excellent protection against electrostatic ignition hazards because they check the integrity of the connection with the system components. Furthermore, they offer the employees more security through the optical signal, whether an intact earth connection is present. But also, the time required and the associated costs for a secure connection check can be minimized. These mobile grounding systems are beneficial when manual intervention prevents automation. An example is systems in which large quantities of drums and smaller containers are filled by hand with flammable liquids.

High protection against electrostatic ignition hazards through permanent monitoring and optical indication of the safe connection
Safety for the employee
Time and cost savings through pure visual inspection of the contact
No automatic locking function in automated processes
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