Plumbers bid to take over RAC?

The Victorian government is currently considering a proposal for mechanical services plumbers to install and service multi-head air conditioning systems.

Last year, the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DELWP) reviewed and revised regulations on plumbing work. Following the review, a series of projects were established to further examine different aspects of the regulations. One such project was reviewing the regulation of multi-head split systems.

Currently, the Plumbing Regulations 2018 and the Building Act 1993 divide work on split systems between two different classes of plumbing work: mechanical services and refrigerated air conditioning. In Victoria, working on single-head split systems is included in both the scopes of the mechanical services and refrigerated air conditioning classes, while work on multi-head split systems only falls within the refrigerated air conditioning class.

Some stakeholders, however, have suggested that mechanical services practitioners routinely install multi-head split systems. In response, the government is examining options for changing the regulations. One proposal is for a minor amendment that would allow mechanical services practitioners to carry out specific aspects of the installation of multi-head split systems, for example, the installation of pipework. Stakeholders have argued that because this is already a routine aspect of mechanical services work, no additional practitioner training would be required.

If approved, it would allow holders of a Certificate II in Split Air-Conditioning and Heat Pump Systems to perform work currently restricted to Certificate III-qualified technicians.

The Australian Refrigeration Council (ARC) has highlighted the proposal, describing it as “an audacious bid” by mechanical services plumbers for refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) work.

“The move defies logic and, if approved, is destined to result in systemic failures,” says the ARC.

“One practical example is for welding pipe. Mechanical services plumbers typically use only 3 to 5 per cent silver solder, whereas RAC applications, which are much higher pressure, require 15 to 45 per cent silver solder. This is typical of the differences between the more general mechanical services work and the specialist nature of RAC work.

“Multi-head units such as Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) systems can be complex. They involve significantly more electrical expertise to install, well beyond the scope of the training for the typical mechanical services plumber.”

The changes would also conflict with the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Regulations 1995, which requires a full refrigeration and air conditioning licence (RAC01) for work on multi-head split systems.

“The Victorian government has recently undertaken some valuable work to simplify licensing for RAC work, so it is more consistent with how the industry operates, is more economically sensible and better aligned with appropriate training,” the ARC says.

“This current move will, in part, undermine that good work.”

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