When installed and used correctly, refrigerant gas is safe and can benefit many industries. However, if poorly installed or equipment maintenance is inadequate, leaks can occur and lead to serious threats to the health and safety of workers. Shaun Evers, Stonegate Instruments, discusses how these potential risks in addition to stringent legislation has led companies to seek out the latest high-tech gas detection systems


rolonged exposure to refrigerant gases can lead to frostbite, chemical burns and even

brain damage, and whilst such serious scenarios are rare, employees working with heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) stores and refrigerated systems are at risk of these and other conditions including irritation to the eyes and throat, mood changes (including depression), nausea, nosebleeds and pains in the chest.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS AND COMPLIANCE Refrigerant gas leaks are the foremost contributor to energy loss in modern HVAC stores, because when a leak occurs the system has to work harder to maintain the temperature, using more costly energy, impacting the environment and as previously mentioned, risking the health and safety of employees. To tackle climate change, the EU has set

targets including reducing F-gas emissions by 60 per cent of 2014 levels by 2030, and by up to 95 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. The 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. For breaches of the F-Gas regulations and other

EU regulations, the Environment Agency can impose civil penalties of up to £200,000. Despite uncertainty surrounding Great Britain’s Brexit deal with the EU, it is not expected that regulations will become less stringent. These imposed regulations not only tackle actual

leaks but also place greater focus on businesses conducting regular checks, meaning operators of air conditioners, stationary refrigeration equipment, refrigeration units fitted to trucks and trailers and heat pumps that contain F-gases in

30 WINTER 2020 | INDUSTRIAL COMPLIANCE excess of five tonnes CO2 equivalent (CO2 e) must

ensure the equipment is routinely maintained and monitored for leaks. Of course, for apparatus without gas leak detection systems installed the mandatory gas leak checks increase. It is not just the inhalation of refrigerant gases

that raises health concerns but also the highly flammable characteristics of some A2L refrigerants. With this in mind operators must ensure concentration levels are contained below the flammability threshold, both to avoid ignition and to comply with other safety legislation and ISO 5149 and EN 378 standards. According to the Institute of Refrigeration

working with the Carbon Trust, a leak of just 1kg of refrigerant gases causes approximately the same environmental damage as driving a van 10,000 miles. They report that leaks of up to 30 per cent of the charge during a year are not uncommon in commercial and industrial refrigeration and that if undetected for three months this could use an extra 10kW in electricity, equivalent to £1,400. This means that some leading detection systems have a return-on- investment period of just two years, not including the cost of repair to the system. 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.

USING TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE 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. Simply relying on staff to detect leaks is

extremely dangerous. The Carbon Trust has noted that up to 60 per cent of gas can escape

unnoticed and that an average annual leak rate of up to 20 per cent in UK refrigeration systems is not uncommon. It is because of this the government has shifted responsibility to employers with further regulations such as the DSEAR (Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulation 2002). 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/visual alarms. Even though risks remain, modern-day

refrigerants can be managed efficiently with the right safety and monitoring equipment.

Stonegate Instruments


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