The effects of a refrigerant leak on Health, Safety & the Environment

The effect of an accidental refrigerant leak in a DX (direct expansion) Refrigerant Cycle
(Vapor Compression Refrigeration System)

The refrigerant in the DX cycle (closed circuit) is a controlled substance in terms of pressure, flammability, toxicity and environmental effect. It circulates around to perform the heating (Heat Pump) or cooling cycle and must not leak (as system will shut down by built-in controls).

The effect of an accidental refrigerant LEAK has three important consequences that must be taken into account:

  1. Safety of installers, service engineers, operators and USERS (operational & accidental release)
  2. GWP (Global Warming Potentional) (operational & accidental release)
  3. Environmental effect ODP (Ozone Depletion Potential) (accidental release)

international standards (ISO817 & ASHRAE34) classification and BS EN 378 (installation of equipment containing refrigerants) regarding the use of refrigerants that influances local and International safety laws such as H&S 2016 no.1107) and ATEX2014/34/EU 

i) Flammability being A1 Non-Flammable, A2/A2L Flammable or A3 Extremly Flammable & Explosive.
ii) Toxicity (mainly displacement of Oxygen in an occupied space) being B1 Low, B2 Medium and B3 High.
iii) Global Warming Potential (GWP) or Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) in the event of release into the atmosphere.
(applies to CFC, HCFC not HFC's or HFO's)

UK Government Study of the impact of high GWP A1 class non-flammables refrigerants (e.g. R410A) in Heat Pumps, concluded, that the carbon benefit of displacing fossil fuels was around 17 times higher than the impact of refrigerant leaks. without the RISKS, COST and UNCERTAINTY of A2L class flammable refrigerants future (e.g. R32)

DX Cycle accidental refrigerant leak Effect on Safety & Environment

Extra mandatory measures : 
If A2/A2L (flammable) or A3 (highly flammable) class refrigerants are used in DX cycles within AC or refrigeration systems:

  1. Special risk assesment per installation must be undertaken (BS EN378)
  2. Must have 3rd party certification (CE or UKCA)
  3. Strict application use where there are flames or sparks present
  4. Clear Warning labels to Occupiers, Installers, Building owners, Transport authorities, Maintenance engineers, Fire and Building control authorities
  5. Special handling certification (engineers, storage and transport)
  6. Insurance companies must be made aware and can entail extra premiums.


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