Safety first: avoiding poor maintenance and misinformed retrofits

By Elke Milner, Jul 02, 2014, 14:21 2 minute reading

Hydrocarbons have been safely applied as refrigerants for years in domestic, commercial and industrial refrigeration applications. However, unsafe retrofit practices and a lack of maintenance and monitoring systems can put refrigeration technician safety and the general public at risk. In light of the predicted market growth of these climate friendly refrigerants, sound and reliable information on precautions to prevent untoward accidents are needed more than ever.

Hydrocarbons feature a low global warming potential (GWP) and low ozone depletion potential (ODP) and offer high efficiency in cooling processes. When applied safely and correctly, hydrocarbons offer a future-proof solution in many refrigeration applications. However, a focus on raising awareness of proper maintenance and installation procedures and increasing technician training must remain priorities for the natural refrigerant industry in order to avoid accidents, which could slow or even reverse the accelerated market uptake of hydrocarbon refrigerants.

All refrigeration systems not created equal
HVAC&R associations as well as government entities and even hydrocarbon refrigerant manufacturers have issued warnings on the dangers of using hydrocarbons as a drop-in replacement for R134a in mobile air conditioning units. For example, whilst the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) has often expressed concern regarding the use of DIY hydrocarbon refrigerant air conditioning system recharging kits, in Australasia, if there is an incident involving a car in which hydrocarbons have been installed and some of the damage is directly attributed to the workmanship of the installer, then losses may be recouped from the installer/tradesman.
This is not only an issue for hydrocarbon refrigerants used to charge vehicle air conditioning systems. In 2008 a lack of proper maintenance led to propane leaks unnoticed by leak detectors in the Tamahere Coolstore in New Zealand, which caused an industrial fire, whilst in another reported incident an incorrectly labelled R22 container filled with hydrocarbons caused burn injuries. 
Anyone dealing with a hydrocarbon refrigerant installation therefore needs to be aware that systems designed for use with fluorinated refrigerants are not necessarily compatible with hydrocarbons, and that the implementation of hydrocarbon-specific technology and safety precautions is imperative.  Different refrigerants require different safety measures. System changes must be made before they may be safely retrofitted with any other refrigerant, and if improperly retrofitted systems are not labelled, technicians have no way of knowing they may be dealing with a more flammable substance. 
A basic approach for working with hydrocarbon refrigerants requires:
  • Knowing that there is a flammable refrigerant being used and what its characteristics are
  • Being aware of practices for the safe handling and storage of flammable substances
  • Introducing procedures and applying design to prevent accidents


By Elke Milner

Jul 02, 2014, 14:21

Related stories

Sign up to our Newsletter

Fill in the details below