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Report finds ‘disjointed’ laws on flammable refrigerants

A new report commissioned by Refrigerants Australia has mapped out the laws that govern the use of flammable refrigerants in this country. It also highlights key themes and gaps within the regulatory landscape.

The report, written by Bronwyn Weir and Krista Weymouth, reveals a complicated patchwork of regulations. There is no one set of laws that focus on flammable refrigerants as a subject matter. Instead, there are over one hundred different instruments spanning a range of topics that regulate their use. These include WHS/OHS; electrical safety; dangerous goods; licensing; Australian consumer law; and building regulation and building product safety.

In terms of licensing for HVAC&R technicians who use flammable refrigerants, the report notes various issues.

Although the Australian Refrigeration Council (ARC) does provide a voluntary accreditation program for tradespeople working with flammable refrigerants and is running a safety campaign on R32 (an A2L or mildly flammable refrigerant), some flammable refrigerants fall outside the ARCtick licensing scheme. The report notes that this scheme could be adapted to regulate the risks associated with flammable refrigerants, if there was appropriate legislation to support it.

There is a special mention for Queensland – the only jurisdiction that requires a licence to handle some flammable refrigerants, specifically hydrocarbons. And the report also makes reference to WHS/OHS laws that regulate the transport of flammable refrigerants, though not their use in HVAC&R equipment.

Although not the focus of this work, the report notes that the licensing for HVAC&R technicians in Australia is “particularly disjointed”, with only New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria having specific air conditioning licence or registration classes, and extra licenses required for incidental work.

“This means that in some jurisdictions, air conditioning and refrigeration technicians will be required to hold three licences – an air conditioning and refrigeration licence, a restricted electrical licence and the ARCtick licence.

“The requirement to hold multiple licences or registrations imposes a regulatory burden on participants. They must apply and pay for multiple licenses and potentially also bear indirect costs associated with managing their compliance with regulatory requirements, such as training, systems and processes. It also creates confusion, both for participants and consumers.

“Further, given none of the licensing requirements beyond those in Queensland have a direct correlation to the handling of flammable refrigerants, there is a potential, or at least a perception, that they do not adequately ensure those licensed have the required competencies and knowledge to mitigate risks associated with the use of flammable refrigerants.”

Among other issues for consideration, the report recommends that consideration be given to:

  • How the existing regimes can be used as a vehicle for requiring competencies to be attained in relevant standards associated with the safe use of flammable refrigerants by all licences
  • Whether the existing regimes could be simplified to reduce regulatory burden for industry participants
  • Whether the existing regimes do cover all industry participants that may undertake work that relates to flammable refrigerants, and if not, how to ensure that those not licensed are captured by one of the existing regimes.

The full report is available at the Refrigerants Australia website.

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