By Grant Laidlaw

The reality is that many persons working with refrigerants are not authorised refrigeration practitioners, and therefore have not received training.

Geoff asks:  Hi Grant,  I thought that you may find this interesting. These [see photo] were found in a plant room after commissioning. The practice of re-filling disposables continues, what can be done about this situation, and who can we report this to?

Hi Geoff, thank you for the question and photo, and yes, this continues despite being an illegal and dangerous practice.

Part of the solution is education. To this end SARACCA has standardised the Safe Handling of Refrigerants for Authorised Refrigeration Practitioners in South Africa. In the training, this dangerous practice is addressed.

Given the fact that anyone working with refrigerant is in fact required by law to be an authorised person, one could assume that every refrigeration practitioner would have received this training. We need to ensure that everyone working with refrigerants receives the required training.

To Quote from the SARACCA training manual:

“Do not reuse disposable cylinders.

Once the disposable cylinder is empty, open valve, remove the safety plug and punch a hole in the side of the cylinder with a brass punch.

The disposable cylinder is now ready for recycling.

WARNING: Failure to follow these instructions for safe disposal of the non-refillable refrigerant cylinder can result in an immediate release of contents resulting in personal injury, property damage or both. Read all warnings on cylinders.”

Banning the use of disposable cylinders has been offered as a solution and as such is being discussed in meetings between industry role players and the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.

Looking at the reporting processes we turn to the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

The OHS Act of which SANS 10147 in subsection 15 of the driven machinery regulations clearly states in the general administrative regulations as follows:

Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any provision of regulations shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction, to a fine, or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months and, in the case of a continuous offence to an additional fine of R200 for every day on which the offence continues or to additional imprisonment of one day for each day on which the offence continues; provided that the period of such additional imprisonment shall in no case exceed 90 days. However, should the offence involve the loss of life the chief executive officer can be held liable and be subject to all of the above conditions.

Should the non-conformity be of such a nature that a lack of immediate action by the responsible person (after the situation has been brought to his attention) result in a dangerous and hazardous situation developing and the situation continues for some time, it is the responsibility of the competent person to ensure that safe operating procedures are adhered to.

The competent person in this situation should contact the inspector of machinery and inform him of the hazardous situation and the continued non-compliance.

Disposable cylinders found at a site after commissioning. Image supplied

Geoff, there is little doubt that what we have here is a dangerous situation. Further to the above we find the following in the regulation:

All competent personnel are required to report any contravention of the OHS Act or SANS 10147 statutory requirements immediately to the on-site responsible person of the facility.

If the competent person is a sub-contractor they are required to inform the client both verbally and in writing by including in the daily log sheets submitted details of the said contravention. They are also required to report to their employer the said non-compliance and possible consequences that could arise from the non-compliance.

It is important that effective report back procedures are adopted and that the competent person institutes a paper trail with reports that have been countersigned by the responsible person. It should be noted that failure to do so could result in a competent person being held liable for any occurrence that may transpire due to lack of attention to ensure that the non-conformity is attended to.

The law is very specific in this issue, as ignorance cannot be offered as a defence should the lack of action result in an emergency situation that could have been avoided.

Geoff, as you can see you do have recourse and there is a process that should be followed. The contravention can be reported to the client, SARACCA and ultimately to the Department of Labour inspectorate. This type of dangerous practice is being addressed through training and legislation, but clearly more work needs to be done.


  2. SANS 10147
  3. OHS Act / Pressure Vessel Regulation

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