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Focus on flammable refrigerants

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.

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2 Replies to “Focus on flammable refrigerants

  1. The manufacturer should be made to have printed on the front of the indoor and outdoor units.
    THIS AIR CONDITIONING SYSTEM OPERATES ON R32 REFRIGERANT, IT is Highly flammable, High toxic.
    and explosive.
    The customer should be made aware of what he is sleeping with. If there is a gas leak from the indoor unit the customer might not wake up in the morning.

  2. Very interesting to see this paper. Here in Europe, our F Gas regulation is accelerating the move to use low GWP refrigerants, many of which are flammable. The growing use of R32, and the appearance on the market of other low flammability (A2L) refrigerants, is highlighting the need for training and an increased understanding of the need for risk assessment for any installation. As a group trade associations in the UK, FETA has produced an introduction to A2L refrigerants, which is available to download from the “Documents” page on our website. We have formed a specific group to coordinate activities on this topic, and to link with government and other agencies – especially Health and Safety.

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