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Collaboration uplifts industry through training programme

By Benjamin Brits

After two and a half years in the making, the first phase of this project has been successfully delivered.

As part of the strategy to align local industry to the requirements of the Montreal Protocol and Kigali Amendment (the phasedown/out of HCFCs and HFCs), the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) is the custodian of the project with sponsorship funding derived from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

The HCFC Phase-out Management Plan (HPMP) is to enable the Government of South Africa to phase-out its HCFC consumption in the servicing sector which is by far the biggest consumer of HCFCs. Without measures to reduce HCFC demand, South Africa would not be able to meet its requirements under the Montreal Protocol.

UNIDO, as an Implementing Agency of the Multilateral Fund for the implementation of the Montreal Protocol, is providing technical and financial management and monitoring of this project.

The Government believes it is important to engage in the promotion of alternatives at the earliest stage and in tandem with the awareness raising related to the banning of HCFC-22. Without some activity to communicate and demonstrate the availability and suitability of low GWP solutions the ban will increase the consumption of HFCs.

The HPMP therefore includes activities to promote alternative technologies and raise awareness and engagement in the refrigeration sector. Stakeholders feel the impact of this activity would come from the signal it sent to the market and the commitments that could be gained from private sector users, particularly in the commercial refrigeration sub-sector.

The training of a minimum of 400 (Phase one) service technicians against the newly developed national skills safe handling of refrigerants program with the Air Conditioning And Refrigeration Academy (ACRA), the appointed provider. The training intervention for good refrigeration management practices will be organised for service technicians in the formal and informal sectors in order to engage fully with stakeholders and properly communicate the availability of and implications for using alternatives refrigerants.

The aims of the project are:

  • To up-skill technicians in the sector that are currently unaware of natural refrigerants.
  • To create an awareness as to Ozone depletion, global warming and the necessity to embrace the use of natural refrigerants.
  • To utilise the national training qualifications and curriculum to include natural refrigerant training, assessment and certification.
  • To address issue of resistance to change regarding the implementation of natural refrigerants and to effect behavioural change.
  • To educate / inform persons working in the air conditioning and refrigeration sectors around exposure to hazardous / flammable substances detrimental to themselves, the public and the environment.
  • To educate persons from the informal and formal sectors working on natural domestic systems against the detrimental practice of reverting HC systems back to HFC 134a.
  • To overcome the considerable resistance to change (eg: R134a to R600a).
  • To assist persons in the informal sector breaking into the formal sector.
  • To educate persons who are working in the informal and formal sectors as to the legalities around the OHS Act and Pressure Vessel Regulations.
  • To improve the poor quality of workmanship due to non-trained personnel attending to repairs.
  • To reduce the rate of refrigerant leakage.
  • To address need for trained qualified and certified personnel in South Africa is a national requirement in the NSDS.

The total target of 2000 individuals from the informal and formal sector will receive training on the safe handling of refrigerants over the project timeline, phase two implementation will be in 2022. Refrigerants being of particular focus owing to their role in the fight against global warming, ozone depletion and safety risk. The target group, as far as possible, will comprise equal opportunities for men and women.

{os-gal-232} Images by RACA Journal

The first phase of this project was completed mid-December 2021 and was contracted to the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Academy (ACRA) as their centres were already set up for an immediate execution of the training and could further meet the required timelines. 400 students were interviewed and selected from a pool of more than double that figure and gained the opportunity to partake in the week-long training programme covering a comprehensive framework that has been established as the standard on this subject matter. The same training and assessments will thus be delivered throughout the country by accredited training providers in phase two. The training program is also officially registered at the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO).

The training framework covers a significant theory range and practical examination elements while the timelines have been determined through industry engagement. By successfully completing the training, the learner would be issued a competence certificate. The South African Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (SARACCA) has been the originator of the new national training framework where the establishment of a national standard has been welcomed that can be applied throughout the country, rather than centre or regionally delivered. This step has been seen as a major milestone for the industry.

“The criteria for these ‘informal sector’ applicants in this programme must be made clear up front. These are not just people off the street – the minimum requirement is that they have at least one year’s relevant industry experience. Relevant meaning that they have actually worked on air conditioning or refrigeration systems and have not only performed cleaning duties or limited servicing. This is established through an intensive interviewing process where most of the applicants being accepted are people, who have for example, found themselves in a position where they have lost their jobs due to the economic environment or elected to start their own small businesses. Safety around the appropriate use and handling of refrigerant is essential when working on any HVACR system or during recovery – for the people involved and the environment. The new safe handling training framework further gives these individuals the necessary skills required for the handling of natural refrigerants (some of which are highly flammable) that is increasingly being deployed in the commercial, industrial and domestic markets”, says Grant Laidlaw, chief executive officer of ACRA.

The first phase of the project was aimed at the ‘informal sector’ to firstly raise awareness around the importance of best practices with refrigerants, and also with the function to limit the amount of incidents that occur in this space (that is mostly not even heard about). Interestingly, quite a number of the selected participants admitted to knowing of, or being directly involved in, an accident with components or systems, which could essentially result in a life-threatening situation.

The second phase of the project will see another 1600 qualifying candidates take up the training, and participation from both the formal and informal sectors. Although the primary focus is on the latter, the idea of inclusion of the formal sector is to get the entire industry up to speed, and the same standard to be applied throughout.

{os-gal-233} Images by RACA Journal

As part of the programme, UNIDO as the sponsor, also provides the funding for all required personal protective equipment, travel costs and accommodation for participants that live too far away from the training provider to travel through each day. In addition, all successful candidates will be registered with SARACCA and SAQCC gas and be issued with refrigerant safe handling cards. This all with the objective to ensure the needs of the participants are met and that the programme achieves a successful result.

Feedback from the students, the lectures and even from the DFFE – that regularly comes to check up on the training progress – has so far been excellent.

“The selection process of the candidates that have come through has been really good. The mix of skills and knowledge the groups have vary from very good all the way to very junior or the candidates have a lot to still learn. Sometimes these candidates have struggled for example with calculations or math elements, but they are now equipped with formulas and methods to get this right. This is a particularly happy emotional time, for me anyway, when I see in the student’s eyes that they have got the concept of what we are teaching them. This programme has further allowed the lecturers to identify and correct previous incorrect execution of tasks that can be extremely dangerous. I am confident to say that each student taking part in this programme has definitely learnt something and this can be judged by the positive feedback. A programme like this certainly adds value to the entire industry because the learners are now far better equipped to avoid dangerous actions for themselves and the environment, and have had the opportunity to become more familiar with hydrocarbons”, says Manuel Grota – ACRA lecturer.

The rollout of this programme has other further benefits over the safety and environmental aspects which include industry-wide awareness of the risks or dangers involved in people working on air conditioning and refrigeration systems that are not competent to do so (and potential consequences), but importantly those that qualify through this programme now become more employable and add value to the sector through much needed skills.

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