The process of refrigeration utilises working fluids (refrigerants) to mechanically reduce the temperature of a space, process or product. Using a variety of heat pump and one of the following refrigerants; methane, chlorodifluoromethane, carbon dioxide, propane, butane, ammonia and water or steam. Through this process man-made cooling is achieved.
Each refrigerant has an R number and a global warming potential figure that illustrates the harm it causes at specific levels.
CFC’s or ChloroFluoroCarbons used to be one of the most effective refrigerant gases until it was banned due to its harmful impact on the Ozone. HCFC’s, HFC’s and PFC’s have now replaced CFC’s, and although they don’t deplete the Ozone, they do have global warming potentials up to a thousand times greater than CO2.
As a result it is necessary to closely monitor them when used in the refrigeration process, not only because of their environmental impact but also because of their damaging effects on humans if ingested.
The hazards of using refrigerants in processes such as refrigeration and air-conditioning are wide ranging, including toxicity, flammability, asphyxiation, and physical hazards.
Refrigerant gases are not only harmful to the ozone layer, but also to the individuals handling them, and therefore require proper handling to prevent any damage. When ingested by humans, the dangers posed by refrigerants can be deadly, whilst mild to severe refrigerant poisoning symptoms include headache, ENT irritation, dizziness, vomiting, chemical skin burn, nausea, vomiting blood, breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness, seizures, and much more.
Monitoring the amount of refrigerants used, and limiting the quantity of flammable refrigerant injected into refrigeration or air-conditioning units, within a confined area, ducted into a building or an enclosed space is one way to ensure they do not pose further risks. By ensuring a concentration of RFG does not reach above 20% of its lower flammable limit will make the usage of these substances safer for all involved, and lessen the risk of explosions.
Within the Europe F Regulations, refrigerants are classified by their CO2 equivalence. The legislation makes it compulsory to use gas detection monitoring for refrigeration or other leak detection methods, in order to detect leaks in refrigeration systems quickly.
The F Gas regulations, which were re-issued in 2015, now restrict the use of HFC’s because of their capacity for global warming if released.
Under COSHH current legislation, those operating sites within the UK are responsible for ensuring that the equipment is running safely and that there are no leaks. Operators are required to maintain systems and ensure their ongoing safety by implementing sufficient monitoring, which complies with all occupational and safety regulations.