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Portable Lighting

Published: 10th Jan 2003

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Considerations When Buying a Professional Torch

Health and safety professionals are highly specialised. Likewise, the products they use are distinctive and should be purchased according to function.

Torches, seemingly standard tools used by practically every hands-on professional, are relied upon for specific applications, but rarely researched and thoroughly evaluated before being purchased. It’s important for prospective buyers to know that not all torches are created equal; some lights are specifically designed to perform a particular function, such as in a confined space, while others perform best in different applications.

That’s why health and safety professionals need to consider exactly how a torch will be used, and then examine the features and benefits needed most. Only after these considerations have been analysed will prospective buyers be able to correctly select a torch that most completely fulfills their needs.

Source of Power

The first step to purchasing a torch is deciding which of the two categories of lights – disposable battery-powered or rechargeable – best meets your needs. These categories refer to the type of battery used. Both types are found in many highperformance professional torches including those that are waterproof, non-conductive, and even safety-approved for use in hazardous environments.

There are several factors that differentiate these two categories of torches. The first is longevity. Under frequent usage, disposable batteries, such as alkaline and lithium, will last for approximately two weeks. Once the battery cell’s energy has been exhausted, the battery must be replaced prior to using the torch again. Rechargeable battery cells, on the other hand, are usable for a longer period of time due to their ability to recharge up to 1,000 times. However, the typical run time of rechargeable batteries between charges is shorter than the average run time of disposable batteries.

When choosing a torch, buyers must also consider the economic and environmental impact of rechargeable and disposable battery lights. Disposable battery lights are, on average, less expensive to purchase than rechargeable models. However, the total (initial plus ongoing) cost to operate a disposable battery light, due to replacement battery expenses, often exceeds the total cost of rechargeable models. Environmentally-conscious buyers will also want to weigh the environmental impact disposable batteries can have on the environment over time.

The Power of Light

The amount of power a light delivers, reflected in its candlepower and run time, should be a major consideration when purchasing a torch. Portable lights are capable of generating enormous amounts of power, from relatively lowintensity beams to blinding streams of light. This degree of brightness is calculated in candlepower – the maximum level of light intensity a torch can generate. Run time, the period of time a torch can continuously run without replacing or recharging the batteries, generally varies between one and 10 hours.

A primary contributor to power is the light source. Xenon, krypton and halogen bulbs are among the most popular incandescent varieties used in torches. The alternative to these filament-based bulbs are light emitting diodes, more commonly referred to as LEDs. Both light sources offer a unique set of advantages. Torches equipped with incandescent bulbs deliver an extreme level of brightness. Incandescent bulbs also can be quickly and easily replaced, and allow the torch beam to be adjusted from spot to flood.

Conversely, LEDs require less energy than incandescent bulbs, and therefore offer longer run times. Unlike incandescent bulbs, which burn out over time and occasionally break, LEDs are highly durable and, because they last for up to 100,000 hours, are likely never to need replacing. Furthermore, LEDs are available in a variety of colors.

For Specialised Applications, Specialised Lights

Because torches can be used for a range of diverse applications, a variety of features are available to make operating the light easier, safer and more convenient. It is important that the selected light offers all the features needed for its intended use. Utility workers, for instance, often prefer torches that are non-conductive. Many lights are now available in polymer casings to protect users against electric shock. Waterproof torches, particularly those that feature a textured grip, make sense for professionals working in or around water.

Many lights that do not qualify as waterproof are O-ring sealed to help protect against moisture damage. Professionals working in questionable environments where gases or other undetectable, harmful substances may be present will want to select a light that is safety-approved for use in hazardous locations.

Many health and safety professionals need the freedom of their hands while using a torch. For this reason, many portable lights allow for hands-free operation through the use of an integrated clip or shoulder strap attachment. Another practical solution is a torch that can be worn around the head. This is particularly helpful because the beam of light will always shine where the user is looking. The most versatile hands-free torch is one that converts from a hand held unit to a headlamp.

Performance is Paramount

Usability is another important issue for health and safety users to consider when purchasing portable lighting equipment. In order for a torch to be effective, it must be reliable and able to perform when needed, as needed. One of the most important features affecting a light’s performance is bulb design. Lights that contain dual-filament bulbs can be quite helpful. In the event of a blown filament, users can quickly switch from one filament to another to regain power. Some models include a spare bulb in the end-cap for similar emergency situations.

Battery Safety
Simply purchasing an appropriate torch does not guarantee a user’s safety. It must be used properly. Take, for example, the use of batteries in hazardous locations. Battery-powered devices, when used improperly, have been known to carry the risk of explosion. The cause of these explosions can be attributed to the misuse of alkaline batteries. This misuse can produce excess hydrogen gas emissions which, if accumulated within battery compartments without sufficient release, can cause the battery or compartment casing to rupture.
That’s why users should always use the following precautions:
  • Do not mix batteries of different brands.
  • Refrain from using old and new batteries simultaneously.
  • Do not mix alkaline with non-alkaline batteries.
  • Never use damaged batteries.
  • Ensure that proper polarity is observed when installing batteries. Every effort should be made to prevent batteries from being put in backwards.
  • Carry torches that feature valves which relieve pressure build-up inside the product.

There are also choices concerning the ability to adjust the light output of a torch. Some models are equipped with pre-focused lamp modules that provide the maximum light output at all times. Others feature adjustable spot-to-flood beams that provide a variable width and intensity of light.

Another factor that impacts usability is the accessibility of the on/off switch. Switch location varies from torch to torch. Sometimes the power switch is integrated into the tail-cap, while on other torches the switch is situated closer to the bulb assembly. Additionally, some torches offer dual switching capabilities that provide users the flexibility of constant and momentary “on” operation.

Hazardous Environments Require Safety Approved Lights

Purchasing torches for professional use also requires an understanding of the nature of the environments in which the lights will be used. Most users aren’t aware of the risks involved when using lighting devices in certain situations. Under specific circumstances, torches can ignite, putting the user at risk. To ensure that lights are safe, be sure to purchase a torch that bears the CE marking. While this “symbol of quality” designates that the light is approved for sale within the European Union, it more importantly signifies that the torch complies with the health, safety and environmental product directives established by CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) and CENELEC (European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation).

The CENELEC-established ATEX directive (94/9/EC) is particularly relevant for torch users because it sets standards on equipment and protective systems, including portable lighting equipment, that are intended for use in potentially explosive atmospheres. The potential for explosive atmospheres can exist in locations such as mines, factories, agricultural silos and oil and gas platforms. The ATEX directive requires that all torches bear the CE marking as well as all necessary information essential for the safe use of the light. Torches that comply with the ATEX directive will display the following series of codes: CE marking, Ex hexagon symbol, the group of equipment, the ATEX Category, Gas tested, Norms tested, level of protection provided, the explosive gas group and a temperature code. The level of protection provided is designated by a letter symbol (“n”, “o”, “p”, “q”, “d”, “e”, “ia”, “ib”, and “m”). The symbols “ia” and “ib” indicate that a torch is intrinsically safe: “ia” is safe, even if two faults occur, and “ib” is safe if one fault occurs. ATEX also requires these levels to be completely anti-static.

Indicating the type of gas present in an explosive environment is the group symbol. The gas group is symbolised as follows: I – methane; IIA – propane; IIB – ethylene; and IIC – hydrogen or acetylene.

Lastly, the temperature code indicates a torch’s maximum surface temperature (measured in degrees Celsius) allowable under normal operating conditions. Torches that comply with the ATEX directive will carry one of the following temperature codes: T1 (less than 450 degrees Celsius), T2 (less than 300 degrees), T3 (less than 200 degrees), T4 (less than 135 degrees), T5 (less than 100 degrees), or T6 (less than 85 degrees).

One of the most important symbols that users need to be aware of are Categories of every flashlight. Each category matches a ‘zone of danger of explosion’: Category 3 corresponds to Zone 2, Category 2 to Zone 1 and Category 1 to Zone 0 (most dangerous).

Torch Maintenance
Take care of your professional light and it will take care of you.
  • Torches with rugged polymer or machined aluminum casings can take the abuse of a technician’s workday, extending the life of your light.
  • Some torches have self-cleaning switches, eliminating the problem of corrosion inside the on/off switch.
  • Store your rechargeable torch on its charging rack so it’s always charged and ready to use.
  • Avoid unnecessary abuse like dropping your torch from a ladder, driving over it with your truck or using it to clean out the treads of your boots!
  • Carry back-up batteries with you for disposable battery-powered torches; vehicle-mountable chargers for rechargeable torches.
  • Use batteries that manufacturer suggests as the tests are passed with those brands.

In addition to the CE marking that signifies compliance with CEN and CENELEC product directives, there may be other indications displayed on a torch to indicate that it is safe for use in potentially explosive locations. International third-party testing organisations, such as Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) and Factory Mutual Research (FM) certify the safety of products when operated in specified hazardous environments. Torches certified as safe for use in indicated hazardous locations are awarded “approvals” or “listings.”

The coding system used to indicate an UL-listed or FMapproved torch is similar to that used on products certified to CE and/or CENELEC standards. The basic designations are Class and Division. The Class of a hazardous location is defined by the possibility of an explosive atmosphere. Class I indicates a situation where flammable gases, vapours or liquids could possibly be present, such as a propane tank. Class II indicates a situation where combustible dusts are possibly present, such as a silo where grain is stored. And Class III indicates a situation where there is the possibility of ignitable fibres and flyings, such as a manufacturing facility where metal shavings are air-borne.

The Division of a hazardous location is defined by the likelihood that an explosive atmosphere is present when equipment is operating under normal conditions. Division 1 is an environment where an explosive atmosphere is likely to exist, such as inside an oil or gasoline tank, or in certain confined spaces. Division 2 designates an environment where an explosive atmosphere is not likely to exist, such as a manufacturing facility where a flammable substance like gasoline is flowing through pipes. In this instance, the explosive material is only present if something goes wrong – such as bursting pipes.

Underwriters Laboratories and Factory Mutual Research further define hazardous atmospheres by groups and temperature codes. These classifications parallel the coding system used for torches that comply with CE and CENELEC standards. Groups refer to the atmospheric properties (i.e. gases or dusts) of the hazardous environment, and temperature codes range from T1 to T6.

Making Your Selection

Due to their highly specialised nature and diverse features, torches are no longer bought on impulse, but thoroughly researched and evaluated before being purchased. Understanding how a light will be operated, including frequency of usage and environmental factors, as well as determining which product features best fit your specific needs, will help you to select the most appropriate torch.

Published: 10th Jan 2003 in Health and Safety International

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