An engineer has slammed the refrigeration industry for a lack of standards that he says allows virtually anyone to install a refrigeration system without any monitoring.
Brian Jackson, a professional engineer and member of the Institute of Refrigeration, Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers, gave evidence at the inquest into the death of senior firefighter Derek Lovell at Tamahere in 2008, reported the NZ Herald
A lack of regulations, oversight and training of refrigeration system installers has been described as disgraceful at the inquest, reported Radio NZ.
Jackson said the Government needed to introduce a regulatory body to license people in the refrigeration industry and to introduce a code of practice and regulations to weed out “cowboys”, reported the Heral.d
He said there was “absolute pressure” to use flammable hydrocarbons but it was “hugely concerning” that few people knew how to use or install the refrigeration systems that use them.
It was also “disgraceful” that there were no standards similar to the Building Act for people installing refrigeration systems and it was worrying that there had been no co-ordinated push for safety.
When asked by coroner Peter Ryan if any person with a layman’s knowledge of refrigeration could install a system, Mr Jackson replied: “Yes”.
He said the industry had to cope with “huge change” and complexities that were difficult for those in it to absorb and because of this many were not getting the necessary upskilling.
“People trained in much simpler times and had much simpler refrigeration systems than what we have today.”
Mr Ryan has asked the institute to make submissions about possible changes to the way the industry is regulated.
Jackson said that even though the industry is dealing with systems that potentially are dangerous and could cause harm, it has never been regulated like other industries, reported Radio NZ.
“The lack of overall regulation makes it very difficult to implement improvements and industry practices and it is impossible to enforce standards in the unregulated areas.”
Mr Jackson says various pieces of legislation affecting the industry are complex and unknown by many.
“First thing is: finding them. And, as we’ve seen with refrigerant handling, how such legislation could come into place and be there for the number of years that it was before it dawned on our industry that we needed to comply – I’ve got no answer for that.”
Mr Jackson says pressure is on the industry to use hydrocarbon refrigerants because they are more efficient and environmentally friendly. However, they are more dangerous because they are highly flammable.
He told Coroner Peter Ryan there needs to be a strong education campaign in the industry on the dangers of installing highly flammable refrigerants.
If the cowboys could be taken out of the industry and people working in the field were licensed, then the industry would be much better off, he says.
At the conclusion of the inquest, fireman Merv Neil, severely injured in the Icepak blast, told the Waikato Times that repeated gas leaks at the Tamahere coolstore should have been an indicator of trouble.
Neil said concerns should have been raised earlier.
“It was disgusting to hear the amount of leaks that had happened and obviously Icepak were paying the bills so they must have known about the amount of leaks and knew something was wrong with the system.”
Icepak received 15 invoices from Mobile Refrigeration Specialists to replace more than 200kg of leaked hydrocarbon gas leading up to the explosion. About 80kg alone was replaced in one major leak just four months before the fatal blast.
However, Mr Neil said he was pleased the inquest was over and now he and his colleagues could move on.
“Everything was explained in detail about why and hopefully we end up with a safer environment for our guys to work in.”
He was also heartened to hear an apology from Icepak director Wayne Grattan as he gave his evidence earlier this week.
“I felt it was good hearing Wayne Grattan say sorry, which was pretty small, I suppose, but it was good instead of just hearing from their lawyers.”