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Spotlight on Queensland hydrocarbon refrigerant regulations

Focus on ‘regulatory impost’ rather than rife lawbreaking

Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines Anthony Lynham has requested the Petroleum and Gas Inspectorate to set up a working group that will review the regulation of hydrocarbon refrigerants and find ways of “reducing the regulatory impost of compliance without compromising safety”.

Refrigerant identifier readings were all taken in one Queensland-based VASA member’s workshop
Refrigerant identifier readings taken in one Queensland-based VASA member’s workshop

Minister Lynham wants the consultation to begin as soon as possible, with the first meeting scheduled for September 15 in Brisbane. A VASA representative is attending.

Currently people in Queensland wanting to work with hydrocarbon refrigerants must apply for a gas work license costing $124.40 for three years, which can then be renewed as a six-year license for $207.45.

Applications for this occupational license are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and require certified copies of their ARC licence, recognised air conditioning or refrigeration qualifications plus proof they have completed two formal competency based training units in the safe use of HC refrigerants.

Anthony Lynham
Anthony Lynham

Because no Australian Standard covers the use of HC refrigerants in mobile applications, a detailed risk assessment and safety report must be sent for evaluation by an independent panel of industry experts for each piece of equipment to be worked on.

The Queensland Government website describes this as “a rigorous safety regime”, which is designed “to ensure public safety”.

“Other safety requirements related to LP gas (e.g. Australian Standards such as AS1596) also apply in relation to flammable hydrocarbon refrigerant gases,” says the website.

Any equipment using HC refrigerants requires approval before it can be sold, installed or used in Queensland – including approval of the equipment and licence to undertake gas work.

The current list of approved equipment is mostly made up of refrigerators, freezers and wine coolers, with air conditioning systems restricted to just three self-contained portable units requiring no professional installation.

“If hydrocarbon refrigerants leak from refrigeration systems and mix with air, they can form a potentially explosive mixture,” reads the Queensland Government website.

As reported in the June/July edition of SightGlass News, despite the tight regulations, HC refrigerant use is rife in Queensland’s automotive sector – the majority of it illegal. VASA members in Queensland have reported as many as four in 10 cars entering their workshops with at least some HC in their air conditioning system.

It is clear the regulations are not working and not adequately policed or enforced. But Minister Lynham seems to incorrectly think there is some problem with the “regulatory impost”.

VASA members will be updated on the progress of the Queensland regulation review.

QLD Office of Fair Trading alert on HCs

 Image: SafetyZone
Image: SafetyZone

Earlier this year the Queensland Office of Fair Trading published an alert about HC refrigerant use in its Safetyzone newsletter.

It said the Department of National Resources and Mines received “reports of hydrocarbon refrigerants being used in consumers’ motor vehicle air conditioning systems without their prior knowledge”.

“This has been an ongoing concern for gas regulators and consumer protection agencies for a number of years due to incorrect claims by some traders in the industry. Hydrocarbon refrigerants have similar properties to LPG and are highly flammable.

“If your motor vehicle air conditioning system needs to be re-gassed then you should make sure the replacement gas is compatible with the air conditioning system. You will need to be cautious of cheap quotes to re-gas your system. Our recommendation is always talk to an air conditioning specialist before getting this work done as it could be very costly to fix the system at a later stage.  

“Some suppliers of hydrocarbon refrigerant in Queensland have been advising customers that no licence is required when using hydrocarbon refrigerant in systems. Please note, it is illegal in Queensland to use hydrocarbon refrigerant in an unapproved device and illegal to install hydrocarbon refrigerant in such devices without a license.

“Queensland law requires persons undertaking gas work with hydrocarbon refrigerant to hold a current gas work licence issued by the Petroleum and Gas Inspectorate and the refrigeration system must have been approved by an appropriate authority.”