Warning over safe use of flammable refrigerants

Thursday, 20 September, 2012 - 10:00
Industry news

West Australian employers were recently cautioned about replacing the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) supplied refrigerant with a hydrocarbon refrigerant in their mobile equipment air conditioners or other refrigeration systems.

While a hydrocarbon refrigerant may reduce some hazards, such as toxicity and environmental damage, other hazards such as fire may increase, according to a recent WA Department of Mines and Petroleum Mines dangerous goods safety bulletin.

It noted that the higher cost of fluorocarbon refrigerants compared with hydrocarbon refrigerants may provide an economic incentive to convert from one to the other.

The use of hydrocarbon refrigerants may also be seen as a lower cost alternative when the certification requirements of the tradespeople involved in handling fluorocarbon refrigerants is taken into account.

The warning was issued following an incident in which an employee received burns after hydrocarbon gas that had leaked from a vehicle’s air conditioning system ignited.

The bulletin recommended a number of actions be taken to help ensure the safe use of flammable refrigerants:

  • Before using hydrocarbon refrigerants as a substitute to re-gas an air-conditioner or other refrigeration system, obtain written advice from the system’s designer, manufacturer or supplier on their safe use.
  • Implement a preventative maintenance program for air-conditioners and other refrigeration systems.
  • Only competent personnel should work on air-conditioners and other refrigeration systems, particularly those containing hydrocarbon refrigerants.
  • Do not top up a refrigeration system without first checking for and fixing any leaks.
  • Only use equipment that is rated for hazardous zone use (ie. flame-proof) near sources of flammable refrigerant.
  • Whenever a flammable refrigerant is placed in a mobile equipment air-conditioning system, affix a label in a prominent place in the engine bay to make it clear what refrigerant is used, and how much is used. It should incorporate the flammable gas (Division 2.1) class label.
  • Hydrocarbon refrigerants should be odorised to aid in their detection.