Compliance is key for safety

By Barney Richardson
It appears that many people in the industry are still not fully aware of occupational health and safety legislation and the responsibilities detailed by the Pressure Equipment Regulations.

My contributions to the RACA Journal over the years have been focused on responsible refrigeration from the point of view of installers and mechanics being registered as authorised refrigeration gas practitioners. The registration is as required by the Pressure Equipment Regulations, which have been in place since July 2009, and updated in November 2017.

It appears that many people in the industry – from practitioners, contractors and end users – are still not fully aware of occupational health and safety legislation and the responsibilities detailed by the Pressure Equipment Regulations. The implications of not complying with the Pressure Equipment Regulations and registration requirements has consequences to the user and the installer if there is a follow-up by the now Department of Employment and Labour. There is the added complication of not being able to issue a valid Certificate of Conformity, which is clearly specified in Regulation 17.

The Pressure Equipment Regulations define that in Regulation 6 (1) “the user shall ensure that the pressure equipment (air conditioning or refrigeration) is operated and maintained within its design and operating parameters.” The regulation also requires that the system has a valid Certificate of Conformity (CoC) issued by an authorised person for the installation and when necessary for repair or maintenance. If the installation is above 20kW, a plant logbook is required to record all maintenance events and CoCs issued. An authorised person is the Authorised Refrigeration Gas Practitioner registered with SAQCC gas.

The responsibility in the refrigeration industry including refrigeration associated with air conditioning is for ensuring that the pressure system is safe, and that leakage of ozone depleting refrigerant is avoided and that the use of global warming refrigerants is minimised. The use of refrigerants with low global warming potential are becoming more prominent as HCFCs are being phased out. HFC’s phase-out is yet to come into force as a regulation in South Africa. South Africa by 2024 will follow the phase-out being enforced in Europe, Australia and USA.

The use of natural refrigerants is gaining favour and further regulation could impact on the industry where training in the application, installation and maintenance of equipment using gases like Carbon Dioxide (R744) and Ammonia (R717) in refrigeration applications is necessary. On smaller refrigeration systems and air-conditioning units, the application of hydrocarbons (such as R290) are already being seen in domestic refrigerators. There will be a need for specialist training in the skills pertinent to the use of and the safety aspects of these flammable gases.

The commercial food retail refrigeration sector is the biggest user of refrigerants in the HFC group with air conditioning just behind. The consumption of refrigerants for repairs and maintenance may be the highest because of leaks due to bad jointing because of poor brazing skills already mentioned. There is also bad bracketing, which in turn leads to vibration, and which then causes cracks at elbows and joints with the resulting loss of refrigerant. Training will be focusing on brazing techniques to make sure that leaks are avoided and kept to a minimum.

The other issue of concern is the poor standard of work when preparing a system to receive a refrigerant charge. Piping is not always kept clean and dry during installation and then the proper procedures for charging are not followed: a suitable and proper vacuum, pressure testing with nitrogen and again evacuating before charging with refrigerant gas. How often is nitrogen not used while brazing joints? How often is the vacuum pump run, usually for a very short time and no real vacuum achieved? This happens a lot, which results in compressor failures and resultant claims under the guarantee from the supplier who is not to blame.

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