Safety considerations when using flammable refrigerants
An increasing number of lower global warming potential (or GWP) refrigerants are available in Australia or are expected to become available in Australia over the next few years. As the GWP of a refrigerant is reduced it tends to see an increase in flammability.
Overseas and Australian experience demonstrates that all refrigerants can be used safely and effectively. All refrigerants have unique hazard properties and, when used and handled appropriately, can be used safely. In considering the use of alternative refrigerant it is important that they be used in equipment that is fit for purpose and not used in equipment designed for a specific HFC where to do so could introduce safety hazards.
Safety with flammable refrigerants
Refrigeration engineers or technicians are a key source of advice to customers on equipment or refrigerants and will need to be mindful of obligations they may have to provide accurate advice on any safety issues and their implications, particularly if substitution of the original refrigerant with an alternative refrigerant is being contemplated. Customers should consider additional matters such as warranty or insurance implications. These issues may be covered by national, state or territory consumer protection or other legislation.
Strict standards and procedures must be followed when using flammable refrigerants, including hydrocarbons. These vary between states and territories and the relevant authorities should always be consulted to ensure they meet the legal requirements for the use of hydrocarbons for refrigeration and air conditioning.
In some state and territories the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants to repair or service air conditioning systems may be forbidden without authorisation or licensing by the relevant authority.
Safety requirements under state and territory work health and safety legislation, which places obligations on importers, designers, manufacturers, suppliers, installers and others to ensure that the work health and safety risks are assessed and eliminated or mitigated, need to be considered when contemplating using or retrofitting hydrocarbon refrigerants.
All refrigerants need to be handled and work on RAC equipment needs to be carried out in accordance with state and territory regulatory requirements, including work health safety (WHS) requirements. The regulation of WHS is the responsibility of state and territory governments.
The Commonwealth Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Regulations 1995 does not require a refrigerant handling licence for handling natural refrigerants such as hydrocarbons. However, anyone handling fluorocarbon refrigerants (including halocarbons, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and HFCs) must hold an appropriate refrigerant handling licence.
Any individual (including a repairer or wrecker) who removes fluorocarbon refrigerant from any refrigeration or air conditioning system and wants to replace this gas with natural refrigerants, must hold, as a minimum, a Restricted Refrigerant Recoverers Transitional Licence, which can be obtained from the Australian Refrigeration Council at www.arctick.org.
Individuals who handle fluorocarbon refrigerants without a licence are committing an offence.
Some considerations for consumers having equipment installed and maintained
Consumers considering the use of alternative refrigerants may wish to consider the following:
- Does the technician have the appropriate training, skills and licensing to install and maintain the equipment? The Australian Refrigerant Council provides a full list of licensed technicians at www.lookforthetick.com.au.
- Have the technicians explained what work they are doing and why and outlined any risks associated with the work they are doing?
- If a flammable refrigerant is proposed to be used, have you been made aware of the risks involved?
- A change to the original refrigerant type may void the equipment warranty or have insurance implications. Ask the technician and check with the equipment manufacturer and your insurer.
For more information about the government’s administration of synthetic greenhouse gases, please go to email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone the department on 1800 803 772.
For more information about requirements in each state and territory, including WHS and hazardous chemicals information, visit Safe Work Australia at www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au
For information about Australian Standards, visit Standards Australia at www.standards.org.au.
Some manufacturers also provide training in relation to their own equipment. Ask the manufacturer if they offer training and how you can attend.
There is training available to learn how to safely handle flammable refrigerants. See the current courses.