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If you intend to dabble in flammables, you must be licensed to retrofit an R134a system

If you listen to the pitch of some hydrocarbon sales people, a workshop might be lulled into false security by their oft repeated claim “Buy our refrigerant and you don’t have to go through that pesky and costly national licence procedure.”

VASA has been notified of a number of cases around Australia where mostly larger companies, including many mining companies, facing costs of anything from $200 to $1000 per head to have technicians assessed, up-skilled and licensed, may be tempted to close their eyes to the inherent dangers of using a flammable in a system not designed for it, for the sake of saving a few dollars and perhaps a lot of training.

But this is a double whammy against the Federal Government’s finest intentions to build a better trained workforce to handle environmentally damaging refrigerants, but those workshops which opt to use hydrocarbons will be happily venting existing R134a stocks into the air for years to come, believing that they are unlikely to get caught.

Legally, every workshop or technician choosing to go the HC route, must engage a licensed technician to evacuate the refrigerant in all vehicles containing R134a. In taking this course, they downplay the risk factor of dealing with a highly flammable refrigerant, and ignore the advice of all major car makers in the world.

In Queensland, where the ban on hydrocarbons has been very effective from the beginning, the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines has recently issued its second and most urgent safety alert, urging that these refrigerants are NOT to be used in automotive applications, and recommending that any workshop servicing an interstate vehicle suspected of being charged with HC refrigerant, should shut down all sources of ignition in a three metre radius around the vehicle and under no circumstances use a flame unless the system is emptied and purged. Therefrigerant must be replaced with non-flammable refrigerant.

All workshops and technicians are told to report any instances of this product being sold/used to a Petroleum and Gas Inspector. The warning says the Petroleum and Gas Inspectorate has been advised that attempts may be made to sell refined LPG for use in automotive air-conditioning in Queensland. “These refrigerants are normally sold in aerosol type cans and may contain the words “hydrocarbon refrigerant”, “propane” or “butane”. Some vehicles from interstate may be fitted with these refrigerants.”

VASA believes one of the biggest single issues is about employer’s duty of care. Companies contemplating using HC refrigerant in any automotive situation, let alone in a workshop almost a kilometre underground, should make sure they inform their insurers and indeed the workers underground, that they are using a highly flammable substance in systems which were patently not designed for flammables.

Because HC refrigerant is not a greenhouse gas, it does not fall within the environmental legislation and therefore no license is required to handle it. However, a license is required to service any air conditioning equipment that has been charged with a fluorocarbon refrigerant.

Moves are now under way to bring all refrigerants, including hydrocarbons, under the control of a licensing body, which will at least force the writing and adoption of a universal code of practice, which doesn’t exist now.

There are stringent safety regulations in most states which effectively put the onus on the sellers and buyers of HC refrigerants to ensure that the gas is used safely and that everyone coming into contact with it is aware that it is a dangerous substance.

In the case of NSW’s new WorkCover regulations, not only do the sellers have to produce authorisations that a dangerous substance is endorsed for use in any plant (in this case a car a/c), but the end-use customer has to be advised in writing and agree to having a flammable refrigerant put into their vehicle.

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