HyChill Australia, the refrigerant manufacturer whose highly flammable gas product HyChill-50 was being used in the Icepak Tamahere coolstores when they fatally exploded into fire on April 5, has called for strict compliance with refrigeration safety code requirements.
In a media release issued late yesterday after publication here of an initial Labour Department report on the blast and fire that killed firefighter Derek Lovell and injured seven others, HyChill said all refrigerant gases presented serious risks to life and property if not handled properly.
“If the relevant code requirements and appropriate risk-management processes were not followed, it is possible that the refrigerant gas may have contributed to the fire, as the gas is flammable under certain circumstances,” said HyChill in a statement issued by director John Clark.
The Labour Department incident report, released this week to Tamahere Forum after an Official Information Act request, revealed the refrigerant used by Icepak was HR22/502, also known as HyChill-50, a highly flammable propane-ethane mix.
The company said the intense and long-lasting nature of the fire at Tamahere was probably because of of long-burning products such as wood, insulation and dairy products on the site.
The role of HyChill-50 would mainly have been “that it was part of the initial ignition and, possibly, that it accelerated the ignition of longer-burning products.”
The company will be especially sensitive about its product being linked to the fire because the flammability of hydrocarbons such as propane has been one of the main objections to their use as refrigerants. Hydrocarbons, the so-called natural refrigerants, are being promoted to replace ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), which also contribute to global warming.
The company said it wanted to remind all its customers, “particularly refrigeration professionals, to take safety extremely seriously and to strictly abide by all relevant safety codes, standards (such as AS/NZS 1677) and principles. Doing so will ensure risks are properly managed and refrigeration plants are appropriately safe, and also that the environmental damage from refrigerants is minimised.
“Flammable refrigerants (including hydrocarbons) have been used safely in a vast array of refrigeration applications for over 100 years. They are employed in small systems (domestic fridges) by the millions, right up to the world’s largest systems (on oil refinery platforms), and their use is increasing due in no small part to their favourable environmental characteristics.
“Extending the use of low global warming potential refrigerants such as hydrocarbons are among the most immediate and effective measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic global warming impacts.
“We hope that at least one small ‘positive’ resulting from this most regrettable incident is that refrigeration industry professionals will be strongly reminded of the need to properly assess and manage site risks so that incidents like this are avoided in future.”
HyChill expressed sympathy for the victims of the tragic April 5 event and offered its condolences.
The company’s full media release is here (pdf):hychill-tamahere-media-release