Refrigerants are a potentially dangerous class of chemicals commonly used in heating, cooling, and refrigerant systems. Their prevalence in the HVAC field mean technicians use these chemicals daily.
Due to their flammability and toxicity, it’s crucial that HVAC professionals learn how to use refrigerants safely. The quality of their work and their overall health greatly depend on it.
How to handle HVAC refrigerants safely.
Handling refrigerants responsibly and safely is something all technicians should learn at an HVAC training program. Whether you’re a graduate who needs quick refresher or an aspiring HVAC tech, here are some tips for working with refrigerants.
Mind product-related specifics.
Not all refrigerants are built the same which makes it important for HVAC technicians to look out for product-specific safety guidelines.
Most safety protocols will overlap between different refrigerants, but you don’t want to be ignorant of the unique hazards some products could pose.
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Before working with any type of refrigerant, make sure to read the manufacturer’s specific safety information. HVAC techs should pay particularly close attention to replacement refrigerants.
Since these replacements tend to differ from more commonly used refrigerants, proper safety protocols could differ as well.
Use proper ventilation.
Good ventilation is essential whenever HVAC technicians handle refrigerants on the job. Even modern refrigerants have the potential to injure or kill when inhaled.
The higher the levels of concentration, the greater the danger. Minor exposure can lead to frostbite or irritation, while prolonged exposure has been known to cause cardiac arrhythmia.
Keeping windows, doors, garage doors, and other openings ajar can keep oxygen levels high and refrigerant levels low. This is especially important when working in confined and cramped areas, which aren’t abnormal for HVAC techs.
Avoid high temperatures.
Over the years, refrigerants have come a long way in terms of decreased flammability.
Even the most advanced refrigerants, however, can combust when exposed to sufficient heat. That’s why HVAC technicians must avoid extreme temperatures which might come from sparks, flames, or heated surfaces.
Different refrigerants have different levels of flammability, so HVAC technicians will have to read about the specific chemical being used through safety data sheets (SDS) or information directly from the manufacturer.
Use proper PPE.
Many refrigerants commonly used in the HVAC field are deemed safe by manufacturers, but that shouldn’t keep technicians from taking necessary safety precautions.
Wearing protective personal equipment (PPE) isa basic and effective method for protecting yourself against the potential hazards of these chemicals. This includes equipment such as protective gloves and boots and safety glasses. Wearing pants and long-sleeve shirts can also keep refrigerant from coming into contact with your skin.
Follow relevant laws.
Due to the potential hazards of refrigerants, strict federal and state laws govern the recovery, recycling, handling, and disposal of refrigerants.
In fact, all HVAC techs working with refrigeration and air conditioning equipment have to take a certification exam demonstrating their knowledge of relevant laws and regulations. It’s even necessary to keep a copy of the certificate available if requested. HVAC techs must be certified under Section 608 under the Clean Air Act.
In addition to these federal laws, HVAC technicians should familiarize themselves with the laws in their state of operation. Following these regulations will keep you in good standing with the law, while ensuring your work with refrigerants is safe.
The evolution of refrigerants.
In general, refrigerants pose a variety of risks to HVAC technicians, including flammability, toxicity, and asphyxiation. Many refrigerants also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
The development of a perfect refrigerant is a major scientific endeavor that has been decades in the making. They’re called hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs). It’s been one of the most exciting developments in the HVAC field.
Early versions of refrigerant, such as ammonia and sulfur dioxide, were among the most volatile due to their corrosiveness and poisonous nature. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were the first generation of refrigerants that made considerable strides in reducing their negative impact on human health, but this gave way to hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which quickly replaced their older counterparts, due to their improved sustainability.
Still, there was plenty of room for improvement. That brings is to the most modern class of refrigerants: HFOs.
HFOs have significantly reduced levels of toxicity when compared with older refrigerants and can be broken down in the environment within just a few days, an improvement from the standard of a few years.
Common questions about refrigerant.
Is HVAC refrigerant toxic?
Yes, refrigerant is toxic. It poses various threats to humans ranging from mild injury to death.
That’s why refrigerants should only be handled by qualified and trained HVAC professionals who have the proper skills and knowledge needed to handle these chemicals safely and responsibly.
Is refrigerant harmful to humans?
All types of refrigerants are harmful to humans in varying degrees. These chemicals can cause irritation, asphyxiation, frostbite, and more.
Is modern refrigerant toxic?
Although modern refrigerants have come a long way in terms of the hazard posed to humans, the most commonly used compounds in the HVAC industry are still potentially toxic to technicians.
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