Shaun Evers, Managing Director of Stonegate Instruments, discusses how the potential risks from refrigerant leaks and stringent legislation have led to companies in many sectors seeking out the latest gas detection systems.

Prolonged exposure to refrigerant gases can lead to frostbite, chemical burns and even brain damage, and whilst such serious scenarios are rare, employees working with cold stores, air conditioning units and refrigerated systems are at risk of these and other conditions including eye, throat and skin irritation.

KEEPING COMPLIANT Current F-Gas regulations impose a ban on any

refrigerant with a GWP (Global Warming Potential) of more than 2,500, resulting in businesses, especially in the food supply chain, being prevented from using certain hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant gases such as R404a and R507a.

Also, these regulations place greater focus on conducting regular checks, meaning operators of stationary refrigeration equipment, heat pumps, air conditioners and refrigeration units fitted to trucks and trailers that contain F-gases in excess of five tonnes CO2 equivalent (CO2e) must ensure the equipment is routinely monitored for leaks. For apparatus without gas leak detection systems installed the mandatory gas leak checks increase.

The flammable characteristics of some A2L refrigerants mean operators must ensure concentration levels are contained below the flammability threshold both to avoid ignition and to comply with safety legislation and ISO 5149 and EN 378 standards.

Early detection of gas leaks is key to minimising risk, and the latest detectors can pinpoint a comprehensive range of popular refrigerants including HFCs, CFCs and HCFCs.

To tackle climate change, the EU has set targets including reducing F-gas emissions by 60% of 2014 levels by 2030, and up to 95% of 1990 levels by 2050.

Currently the Environment Agency can impose civil penalties of up to £200,000 for breaches of the F-Gas regulations and provisions in the EU regulations. Although Great Britain has left the EU


it is not anticipated regulations will alter or become more lenient.

USING TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE It is extremely dangerous to rely on staff to detect

leaks when up to 60% of gas can escape unnoticed and The Carbon Trust has recorded an average annual leak rate of up to 20% in UK refrigeration systems. The government has shifted responsibility to employers with further regulations such as the DSEAR (Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulation 2002).

Whether a leak results from mechanical damage, equipment failure or poor maintenance, gas detection systems can help ensure they are quickly identified and repaired, minimising risk to health and safety of employees, ensuring compliance with regulations and saving businesses money.

Refrigerant gas leaks are the foremost contributor to energy loss in modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) stores, because when a leak occurs the system has to work harder to maintain the temperature, using more costly energy.

For example, a small but continuous leak, undetected for three months could use an extra 10kW in electricity, equivalent to £1,400. Thus, some leading detection systems have a return-on-investment period of just two years, not including the cost of repair to the system.

Sophisticated detection systems are now more intelligent and capable of combatting risks posed by toxic and non-toxic gases including HFCs. There are high-tech refrigerant sensors with signalling alarms, LED lights indicating the presence and status of each sensor and audio or visual alarms.

Even though risks remain, modern-day refrigerants can be managed efficiently with the right safety and monitoring equipment.

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