Safety in the HVAC&R Industry

A coalface perspective of market failure

FINDINGS AND RECOMENDATIONS ON WORKPLACE HEALTH AND SAFETY ISSUES SURVEY
    AIRAH has produced a report on an independent and anonymous survey of technical service providers that was carried out to discover and review safety issues within the HVAC&R industries. AIRAH members will have exclusive access to this report for one month.

Download the report 

Executive summary

This project provides additional evidence and insights for AIRAH to progress its strategic advocacy theme of compliance.

Historically, the HVAC&R industry has not been considered a particularly “unsafe” industry. Although, due to the low visibility of the industry as a standalone entity, many of the safety incidents that do occur tend to be identified as construction, electrical, plumbing-related etc., rather than HVAC&R-related. A recent Commonwealth Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) report into safety within the refrigeration and air conditioning sector concluded that safety incidents were low, were most likely under-reported, and were more likely to increase due to contemporary technology changes.

AIRAH receive many comments and enquiries from its members and other industry stakeholders regarding safety issues within the HVAC&R industry and decided to run a national survey in collaboration with a range of industry associations. Reaching out to technical service providers on the topic of safety in the HVAC&R industry, the survey focussed on the refrigeration and air conditioning (RAC) sectors. 

Safety issues were highlighted by industry respondents, but solutions were also suggested. These suggestions are summarised in the report, which concludes with a list of recommendations and a proposed “next step” to help address increasing concerns regarding the safety risks in the HVAC&R sector.

The results of this survey show there is a high level of concern about safety in the HVAC&R industry and AIRAH recommends an industry strategy to create a strong direction to improve safety standards and outcomes in this industry.

Key findings include:
  • The four main areas of concern are quality and training, access to plant, working fluid hazards and electrical hazards.
  • The increased safety risks and higher ongoing costs associated with poor access to HVAC&R plant and equipment are ‘designed in’ to systems from day one, from before construction even starts.
  • There is a market failure at play in many scenarios. 
  • Those who would have to pay for the additional capital cost to provide safe access during the construction are different to those who will actually pay for the increased ongoing costs caused by the inadequate access.
  • There is no market incentive for the builder to invest in access solutions that will save the owner or operator money in the longer term, and a cost transfer occurs.
  • Increased costs in operation can include higher maintenance costs, higher energy costs and higher replacement costs.
  • Technology transition to low-GWP refrigerants that is currently being driven by a national and global agreement to phase-down the production and use of HFC refrigerants is tending to increase the risks associated with working fluids (refrigerants and oils).
This survey and report have been produced to help the HVAC&R industry and WHS regulators understand safety issues in design, installation and service scenarios. The industry can now consider what the next steps should be to address these issues.