New hazards in refrigerant handling

While the topic of refrigerant hazards has always been important, right now it is more important than ever.

Refrigerants have always had their own hazards, but now, as we move away from hydro-fluorocarbons there are even more potential dangers that we must take into account.

A new era for refrigerants

Reducing fluorine in refrigerants actually increases their flammability. We are now moving into an era where we will be dealing with flammable refrigerants much more than we ever did before. Thus, working practices must be modified, to ensure maximum safety during handling.

This is particularly relevant to the task of un-brazing compressors. When we un-braze, we introduce a flame into a situation where there may be a flammable substance mixed with air. So of course, there is a risk of fire – and in worst possible cases, an explosion.

Whenever we recover systems, there is a residual amount of refrigerant left in the system, together with the compressor oil. Thus, when we heat up the joints on the compressor in order to change it – if it is faulty for example – there is a risk that as we apply heat to the compressor body, the combination of the oil fumes and the refrigerant vapour will reach a flashpoint. This could result in considerable personal injury in the form of burns.

Developing universal procedures

Having removed the refrigerant and taken it down to atmospheric pressure, the system must be evacuated before filling with nitrogen at atmospheric pressure to ensure no oxygen is present in the system. Right around the world, at various events, work is under way to develop universal procedures for preparing compressor bodies for removal.

As we move forward, there needs to be general awareness of the fact that just about all refrigerants will be flammable, and some highly so. In all situations, operatives must be fully aware of all potential hazards associated with this, even when some refrigerants have a lower level of flammability – it is important never to be complacent.

Training – more important than ever 

In systems involving non-flammable refrigerants, fumes from oil elements still constitute a hazard. Refrigerants will sometimes produce toxic fumes when they break down. Because these fumes are heavier than air, they displace air, and are therefore potentially asphyxiating substances.

Although refrigerant hazards have been with us for as long as any of us in the industry can remember, it is absolutely crucial that we are aware of the changes concerning flammability and that we develop appropriate procedures to maximise safety at all times.

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