Gas Curves
Gas Curves

Intrinsic safety is all about limiting the power in a circuit to ensure no sparking can occur which, in most cases, results in minimal heating affect. By design intrinsic safety is a system concept and therefore the (power limiting) parameters for compliance of the system (loop) must be defined.
Known as the safety parameters, the key parameters are Voltage, Current and Power with system loop Capacitance, Inductance and Resistances being critical.
Each item in the loop must have its parameters defined1 to assure compliance.

Parameters For Associated Apparatus i.e Intrinsic safety Barrier. The parameters represent the maximum output to the Hazardous Area for safety purposes, including safety margins, and therefore more than the working or maximum supplied output in real circuits.

Parameter Notation Description
Voltage Um Maximum voltage input from undefined connected equipment2
Voltage Out Uo Maximum voltage supplied to the field (peak a.c. or d.c.)
Current Out Io Maximum current output supplied to the field (peak a.c. or d.c.)3
Power Out Po Maximum electrical power that can be taken from the apparatus4
Capacitance Co Maximum capacitance allowed in the circuit5 connected to the Associated Apparatus
Inductance Lo Maximum inductance allowed in the circuit to be connected to the Associated Apparatus
Lo /Ro l Also referred to as L/R and L/Ro in the standards it is the maximum allowed ratio of cable Inductance to Resistance allowed to be connected to the to Associated Apparatus. 6

For the Hazardous Area equipment matching safety parameters are defined:

Parameter Notation Description
Voltage In Ui Maximum voltage allowed to be connected to maintain intrinsic safety Integrity
Current In Ii Maximum current capability of the connected associated apparatus to maintain intrinsic safety Integrity
Power In Pi Maximum electrical power capability of the connected associated apparatus to maintain intrinsic safety Integrity
Capacitance Ci The effective internal capacitance presented at the device terminal as part of the intrinsic safety circuit
Inductance Li The effective internal inductance presented at the device terminal as part of the intrinsic safety circuit
Lc /Rc The ratio of Inductance to resistance of the connecting cable (also referred to as L/R or L/Rc).7

Simple Apparatus

By definition the safety parameters of simple apparatus do not need to be defined as it must have a Po of <1.3 W and negligible capacitors or inductance therefore the safety parameters voltage, current and power for the simple apparatus are not relevant being controlled by any intrinsic safety associated apparatus.

Typical Barrier Parameter Values

28v 93mA As most process field instrumentation is designed around 24vdc or 12vdc, intrinsically safety barriers at those working voltages have been designed to deliver the maximum power to the field and still keep below the gas curves (with a safety margin).
This results in most barriers having very similar characteristics e.g. for a working voltage of 24vdc the Zener diode voltage would typically have a safety voltage of 28v to ensure no leakage in normal use, a 10% safety margin is applied giving a figure or 30.8v.
From the IIC graph this equates to 140mA.
Traditionally a ⅓ safety margin would be applied giving 93mA as the safety current allowed which would require a 300Ω safety resistance figure. However, as it was realised that modern components were accurate and reliable, the duplication of safety margin was deemed no longer necessary so the ⅔ factor could be increased resulting in higher power '240Ω barriers as shown below.

As a guide typical figures are:

Working Voltage 24vdc 24vdc 12dc
Uo 28vdc 28vdc 15vdc
Io 93mA 116mA 140mA
Po 650mW 810mW 540mW
R 300Ω 240Ω 120Ω

Intrinsic Safety System

Compliance for each Intrinsically safe loop loop is demonstrated in the Descriptive System Document (DSD) based on comparison of the above parameters.


  1. Not all parameters are necessarily specified, some may be inferred, not relevant/required to ensure safety. 

  2. Um is not related to the field intrinsic safety parameters but is used to establish the power rating of components (primarily Zener diodes) under fault conditions to ensure they can continuously withstand that fault condition. Note that the connected equipment in the non-hazardous area must be supplied from a voltage less than Um (Ref: 60079-14 clause 16.2.1) 

  3. Note This is safety parameter and not the actual current available. 

  4. For a conventional Zener barrier this usually calculated from the Voltage and current parameters *Po = (Uo  Io)/4**. However, depending on the output circuitry of an isolation interface this may not be the case. 

  5. The circuit included all field devices and cable (see Intrinsically Safe Systems) 

  6. Both Inductance and resistance are proportional to length the ration L/R of the two is constant for any cable. As the spark potential is proportional to inductance and inversely proportional to resistance in effect the cancel each other out. This of often used when the Inductance alone is a limiting factor in determining the length of the cable allowed. 

  7. The term L/R is the calculation for the cable not for the associated equipment, see EN 60079-11 clause 6.2.3 for the barrier calculation.