Non-compliant hydrocarbon-based refrigeration systems.
Over recent weeks, IRHACE have been made aware of three (3) non - compliant hydrocarbon- based refrigeration systems being installed into commercial premises.
In conjunction with the relevant authorities, these sites have now been rendered safe by the safe removal of the refrigerants; but we are concerned that there could be more of them out there.
What does this mean for me?
The owner / operator (the PCBU) of plant has a right to expect that you, as a practicing refrigeration engineer, will be aware of the risks associated with using hydrocarbon- based refrigerants and will be able to provide guidance. Even if you did not do the original installation, once you become aware of its existence, the law requires that you take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the safety of the people working on the site, as well as that of the public at large.
What can I do?
In the first instance, look for any labels or stickers that could indicate the type of refrigerant that is actually in the system. Do not rely upon the traditional manufacturer’s labels fitted to the compressor or expansion device – these may not reflect what is in the system. Two of the three systems referred to in the above were, when built, R404a systems and were subsequently retrofitted to hydrocarbons.
Each of these 3 systems had been fitted with a sticker upon the compressor stating, “Hychill Minus 40. R290”
Caution, not all retrofitted systems will have these warning labels.
If you cannot be sure of the identity of the refrigerant, then the system should be treated as if it contains an A3 refrigerant. (Refer CCCANZ Fact Sheet 2; page 1 refrigerant classification and fact sheet 4; page 3, Pre-Service Safety)
· A PCBU with management or control of a refrigeration system operating on a flammable refrigerant must ensure that the quantity and means of containing refrigerant complies with AS/NZS 5149:2016. The exceptions are domestic refrigerators, domestic heat pumps / Air conditioners.
· The retrofit of a flammable refrigerant into a system designed for a non-flammable type creates an installation that may be deemed unsafe under the Electricity (Safety) Regulations 2010. Such systems present a serious risk of explosion and/or fire if a refrigerant release occurs, and any subsequent insurance or warranty claim may be denied.
· All equipment employed in the completed installation must be certified by its manufacturer to be safe to use with flammable refrigerants. This includes all fan motors, compressors, thermostats, pressure switches as well as valves and interconnecting pipework.
· The system refrigerant charge must be equal to, or less than the allowable limits proscribed under AS/NZS 5149.1:2016.
· The system must be in compliance with the AS/NZS 60335 series of electrical standards (of which there are many).
· Apart from some domestic heat pump installations, you are not permitted to use “flare” type connections anywhere on the system including on connections to pressure switches.
· The completed system, including the inter-connecting pipework, must be properly labelled with appropriate and conspicuous “flammable Gas” warning pictograms.
· All staff who will be using or operating the completed plant must be fully trained in its use. They must be made aware of the flammable nature of the refrigerant and trained in the relevant safety precautions.
If you become aware of plant out there that you suspect could be operating on hydrocarbons, and you have any concerns regarding the installation or its operation, let someone know!
Who can I contact?
Contact any of the industry bodies – IRHACE, CCCANZ, EWRB, RPGNZ, HPSA – please don’t just ignore it.
If you want to talk to someone, please reach out to us at IRHACE or CCCANZ or EWRB – our board members mobile phone numbers are on our websites, or you could email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have a reason to believe there is any unsafe or dangerous refrigeration equipment in the workplace, and that people may be at risk, please notify WorkSafe on 0800 030 040.