The HFC phase-down has seen increasing use of refrigerants with lower GWP but higher flammability such as R290 (propane) and R32. In turn, this has raised major concerns about the safe use of these gases.
According to the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA), recent workplace fire incidents involving flammable refrigerant gases have “directly contributed to injuries, deaths and damage to property globally, including in Australia and New Zealand”. As well as the direct risk of fire, the combustion products of some refrigerants and mixtures are toxic. For example, halogenated refrigerants release hydrogen fluoride or carbonyl dichloride (phosgene) in a fire.
In response, the HWSA has developed a position paper on flammable refrigerant gases. It highlights issues such as systems being converted to alternative refrigerants or topped up by people without the correct level of competence or training. It also signals the lack of information about which workplaces use flammable refrigerants and the need for systems to be clearly labelled with the refrigerant in use.
The paper provides clear guidance on the legal responsibilities and recommendations for work health and safety (WHS) duty holders with respect to the use of flammable refrigerant gases at workplaces. This includes:
- Importers and manufacturers of flammable refrigerant gases
- Designers of refrigeration systems; manufacturers, importers and suppliers of refrigeration equipment
- Suppliers of refrigerant gas for use in the workplace
- Technicians, engineers and businesses that install refrigeration systems
- Business owners with management or control of workplaces where flammable refrigerants are used in refrigeration and AC systems
- People recovering refrigerant gases.