Intrinsically Safe Radios

By , August 5, 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Intrinsically Safe radios?
Intrinsically Safe radios are Land Mobile Radios (LMR) portables that are certified to operate safely in hazardous environments such as fuel handling facilities. This certification is commonly required for insurance purposes. FM Approvals is a private company that provides this certification.
What is the reason for recent concerns regarding Intrinsically Safe radios?
In January 2010, FM Approvals adopted a more stringent set of ANSI/ISA requirements for LMRs. The driver for adopting these more stringent requirements was to harmonize US standards with the international standard for intrinsic safety devices as established by the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC). The major changes in the new Intrinsic Safety (IS) standard, called FM3610:2010, are the ignition safety factor calculations and the requirement that power levels not exceed 1 watt.

What radios are affected and how are they affected?
FM Approvals initially stated that all LMR portables manufactured after January 1, 2012 must be certified/re-certified under the new FM3610:2010 requirements to be considered intrinsic safe. However, LMR manufacturers and end users expressed concern that the IS Standard FM3610:2010 would require new tower sites and repeaters because the low portable power would significantly reduce the network coverage. They also had issues with the timing because public and private agencies are grappling with the need for investment in 800 MHz Rebanding, UHF/VHF Narrowbanding, and new P25 Systems.

As a result of these concerns, in November 2010, FM Approvals proposed that the LMR industry work with the standard organizations to develop a new effective date to comply with an updated standard for FM3610 and develop a new national standard for portable battery-operated equipment.

The uncertainty in the timing and details of new Intrinsically Safe radio standards essentially places a “technology freeze” on battery-operated radios, with no new designs in 2012 and beyond until a new standard is established. New portable two-way radio designs would be certified under the new standard, after it is developed and approved.

What radios are NOT affected?
All LMR portable radios currently in operation or manufactured prior to 2012 are unaffected by the revised standard. Radios certified as “Intrinsically safe” by FM Approvals will retain their certification for life of the device.

What is needed now?
There is an immediate need for the industry to work with the standard development organizations to create a new intrinsic safety standard, which makes new LMR systems safe and effective but does not require massive investment. It is to be noted that the FM Approvals did not create FM3610:2010 because of any product safety deficiencies or any field issues related to the current standard.