Concerns have been raised by British refrigeration engineers over the flammable nature of next-generation refrigerants like the one that caused the fatal 2008 explosion at Tamahere.
RAC, the UK Refrigeration and Air Conditioning magazine, reported that industry concerns were growing over a surge in the use of flammable refrigerants and a lack of controls over who could buy them.
It follows an inquest in New Zealand which heard that the refrigeration industry there does not have enough skilled staff to deal with the imminent growth of flammable hydrocarbons, RAC reported.
Graeme Fox, president of refrigeration contractor association AREA, believes that the potential growth in flammable and explosive refrigerants will be a recipe for disaster without a corresponding effort to ensure they are purchased by qualified engineers, it was reported.
Mr Fox said: “There have already been accidents involving service technicians using volatile refrigerants, and though these have been in the minority, the problem will only get bigger.
“F-Gas was the perfect excuse to ensure that all engineers were versed in refrigerant handling and properties,” he added. [F-Gas is a Europe-wide regulation requiring all refrigeration engineers to be trained to handle fluorocarbon gases and relates to their phase out as contributors to global warming.]
Experts have previously voiced concerns over the flammable nature of new refrigerants. Mr Fox pointed to market leader Daikin and its ambitions for the R32 refrigerant in the coming years as an example.
“Though this refrigerant is flammable there has been a lack of information put out in the industry. We are not against new refrigerants; however, we are against introducing gases that are life-threatening without any training or information. There has been no consultation with the industry and very little thought as to the wider implications,” he warned.
In New Zealand, a recent inquest into the death of fireman Derek Lovell,who died in 2008 after an explosion at a store in Tamahere, near Hamilton, was told that the country’s refrigeration industry was completely unprepared for the use of flammable hydrocarbons in refrigeration systems.
Brian Jackson, a refrigeration engineer and a representative of the Institute of Refrigeration, Heating & Air Conditioning Engineers of New Zealand, told coroner Peter Ryan that the industry was completely flummoxed by the sudden pressure to use hydrocarbons.
He added that current legislation was overwhelming and there were not enough qualified staff coming up through the ranks to safely use or install hydrocarbons.
“We have been confronted by huge change and recent complexities at a rate most people can’t absorb and it’s a bit like the evolution of computers.
“Not only has the amount of stuff you need to learn to keep up but the complexity has to a point where it’s not immediately obvious so you can’t absorb it and learn it and carry on as we have… so if there isn’t any compulsion to go and find that stuff in the busy lives that people lead, it just doesn’t happen.”
Mr Jackson said the industry had been pleading with the government for some form of regulation to cut out the “cowboys” for years, without success.
He said he could understand how Warren Cook, of Mobile Refrigeration Specialists who designed and built the Tamahere site, did what he did and how he thought it was right.
QC Chris Gudsell said in Mr Cook’s submission he wrote that he didn’t know he wasn’t complying with relevant legislation.
Refrigeration systems are not included under the New Zealand Building Act, so there was currently no formal checking or approval procedures in place, which Jackson said was “disgraceful”.
“There’s nothing the equivalent in the New Zealand industry.”