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How to improve the skills gap between refrigerant purchasers and recycling.

Australia and New Zealand have similar environmental controls regarding the safe handling and use of refrigerants. Australia has had a legal licensing regime in place for a few years and New Zealand is still putting together a final licensing regime. Apart from safe handling practices with the pressures involved, a large part of this regime covers environmental issues and in particular, ensuring refrigerants are not discharged to the atmosphere. The mainstream refrigeration industry has been working on these issues for a number of decades but those on the fringes or in related industries have not and it is this subject that the following comments relate to.

We have noticed a trend over the last 12 months from website and other enquiries that small and large enterprises outside of the mainstream refrigeration industry are starting to take notice of the need to avoid discharging gas to the atmosphere and the direct costs of continuously injecting new refrigerant in to a system all of the time where the possibility of reclaiming and recycling may be possible. Traditionally the auto air-conditioning industry is a grey area where the use of open type compressors with mechanical shaft seals that can leak will continually discharge gas. Also the auto accident repair industry with so much of the mechanical air-conditioning equipment sitting in the front of a vehicle and open to damage and leakage in a “nose to tail” accident will under similar conditions discharge gas in to the atmosphere. Most vehicle owners including large corporates tend to “set and forget” vehicle air-conditioning until there is a problem. When there is a slow refrigerant leak, it will not be noticed until there is no longer any cooling effect inside the cabin and any chance of capturing the remaining refrigerant has long gone !

While the larger workshops may well have portable MAC units capable of automatically reclaiming, recycling, leak testing, evacuating and re-charging these vehicles under controlled conditions, the average smaller workshop and panelbeater is more likely to engage the services of a dedicated auto auto-conditioning serviceman or attempt to carry out the air-conditioning service themselves. Therein lays the problem. The skills required to charge an air-conditioning system with refrigerant that has slowly leaked out over time by purchasing new refrigerant and using basic equipment may not require a great deal of training. However, there will be no opportunity to either avoid discharging gas to the atmosphere or reduce purchasing new refrigerant quantities (& therefore imports into the country). The leap in skills required jumping from adding refrigerant, to reclaiming, recycling, leak testing, evacuating, charging, and/or disposing of contaminated refrigerant plus purchasing the equipment to carry out these disciplines is sometimes too great.

We would recommend investing in a basic automatic “all in one” machine to overcome the short term skills gap. Get in touch with us in Australia or New Zealand to assist where we can.

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