Agency Issues Warning on Refrigerant Servicing Risks

November 21, 2016

U.S. companies might take a lesson from friends down under. Worksafe NSW, a government agency tasked with workplace safety in New South Wales, Australia, recently issued a safety alert noting potential risks of servicing refrigerant systems.

The alert comes after several workers were injured using oxy-acetylene torches to unsweat copper fittings. The refrigerant in the incidents, R-22, is not flammable, however, the combination of compressor oil and refrigerant still in the systems caused several incidents where workers suffered burns, some severe.

Climate Control News reported that “It’s believed residual pressure in the system caused the refrigerant and oil to be released from the pipe joint, which contacted an ignition source and started a flash fire.”

The incidents support that refrigerant should be completely recovered from systems using reclamation systems prior to using torches on pipes. Since refrigerant that has not been recovered from a system will remain in solution with compressor oil, pressure in the system will rise as warming or agitating occurs. This can expel refrigerant and oil mist, which will be flammable and may create highly toxic fumes. Technicians should plan accordingly for time to evacuate systems or work with companies such as Airgas Refrigerants, which can evacuate large systems quickly.

The Worksafe NSW agency suggested reviewing current procedures and safe work practices and:

  • Reclaiming refrigerant before breeching the system;
  • Ensuring that work areas are well ventilated;
  • Using pipe cutters or similar tools to cut pipes, with oxy-acetylene torches as a last result.

If an oxy-acetylene torch or similar is used, the agency recommended that:

  • Welding and safety codes are complied with;
  • The system is purged with dry nitrogen following full recovery of the refrigerant;
  • Adequate ventilation is provided to remove hazardous gases;
  • Appropriate personal and fire protective equipment is used.