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What is an Intrinsically Safe Radio?

If you spend a lot of time shopping around for two way radios, at some point you may have come across the term "intrinsically safe". If you're somewhat new to the world of walkie-talkies, you probably have a few questions. What is an intrinsically safe radio? What does it do? What makes an "intrinsically safe" radio different from any other radio? Why would I want one? Why would I need one? Why would I even care?

The word intrinsic refers to the essential or real nature or value of something. In electronics it refers to the very nature of an electronic device as being electrical; an item that operates using electricity. Any electronic device, by its very nature, carries and electrical current or charge, therefore the chance of an electrical spark or heat eminating from the device is inherently present or a possibility at all times.

Intrinsically Safe means the device is safe to use in hazardous environments where the presence of a potential spark, heat or flame could potentially create a safety hazard. In the case of two way radios, this is especially important. Since radios are electrical, they do have the potential to generate sparks and heat, and there are many situations in which a radio may need to be used in potentially hazardous or explosive environments.

Such environments include oil rigs and refineries, gas mains, coal mines, engine rooms of seafaring vessels, chemical plants, factories, emergency scenes involving First Responders, and other environments where there are potentially explosive or hazardous materials.

Hazardous environments fall into different divisions and classifications. The details are outside the scope of this discussion, but essentially they fall into three basic classifications:

  • Class 1: flammable vapors and gases
  • Class 2: flammable dust
  • Class 3: flammable fibers

In such environments, two way radio communication can be very important and even critical to operations, yet standard two way radios should not be used because they can make a potentially hazardous situation even more dangerous.

These situations require the use of Intrinsically Safe radios.

In order to be designated Intrinsically Safe, radios must be designed and housed in such a way as to prevent or eliminate the possibility of generating even the tiniest little spark. They must also limit the amount of heat produced by the radio. The batteries used in the radios must also be specially designed to prevent sparks and eliminate short circuiting. Even the radio housing itself must be designed and constructed of materials to prevent or eliminate friction, which can create static electricity and generate sparks.

In addition to the radios, any accessories used, such as microphones and headsets, need to be intrinsically safe.

Intrinsically safe two way radios are manufactured according to strict codes and regulations set by the National Fire Protection Association. The manufacturing facilities and processes are supervised by Factory Mutual, an insurance and loss prevention company approved by the US government to oversee enforcement of the NFPA codes.

Due to these more stringent manufacturing requirements, Intrinsically Safe radios are considerably more expensive than their standard counterparts. However, the safety considerations built into these radios are worth far more than that. After all, you can't put a price on safety.

Radios manufactured as Intrinsically Safe carry the FM (Factory Mutual) Approved certification mark. Icom, Motorola, and Vertex are major brands with one or more models of intrinsically safe two way radios.

This chart lists popular makes and models of intrinsically safe radios currently available from Buy Two Way Radios.

Intrinsically Safe Radios
Manufacturer Model Band Mode
Icom F4161/F3161 UHF or VHF Analog or Digital
Kenwood TK-2360IS/3360IS UHF or VHF Analog
Motorola VX-451 UHF or VHF Analog
Motorola VX-454 UHF or VHF Analog
Motorola VX-459 UHF or VHF Analog

Questions? Leave us a comment below. You can also give us a call, e-mail us or enter our live chat from 8 AM to 6 PM Monday through Friday!

7 thoughts on “What is an Intrinsically Safe Radio?”

  • We are an authorized Motorola Dealer and provide Intrinsically safe radios to our clients. Standard radios can not be made intrinsically safe at a later date. Only specific Motorola radios are sold as Intrinsically safe and they are made intrinsically safe at the factory. Intrinsically safe radios have special markings and require intrinsically safe batteries.

  • Julius Jarme

    Sir. May I ask if Motorola Xpr 3300e unit is intrinsically or fireproof radio?

  • Quincy Releford
    Quincy Releford May 14, 2019 at 6:16 am

    What about Ammunition and Explosive storage facilities? Are these good for use in those types of facilities?

    • Rick

      As stated in the article, an intrinsically safe radio is designed for use in such environments. For more information, contact FM Global (Factory Mutual). The link is in the article.

  • Leon Weber

    Are other labs like SGS and UL now doing IS certifications now? It would seem as though Motorola in particular has moved away from using Factory Mutual for their certifications.

  • This is very informative article on safe radio. Thank you very much for sharing such an important article in detail. Here I agree with you that as radio is needed to use in various hazardous environments, so it should be safe radio.


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