Automotive Air conditioning, Electrical and Cooling Technicians of Australasia (VASA) said its members were saddened by the news that a truck driver in Queensland sustained serious burns from an explosion caused by the vehicle’s air-conditioning system.
According to an incident report published by Resources Safety & Health Queensland (RSHQ) the force of the blast dislodged some of the windows of the truck's cabin and these were blown clear of the truck.
VASA president Ian Stangroome the organisation has been warning and campaigning about the dangers of hydrocarbon refrigerant retrofits (replacing the original non-flammable refrigerant with highly flammable hydrocarbon products) for more than two decades.
“In that time there have been numerous serious injuries and deaths that would have been avoided if the air-conditioning and refrigeration systems had been using the correct non-flammable refrigerant or properly re-engineered with the necessary safeguards to mitigate the risk of using flammable refrigerant,” he said.
“It is deeply concerning that this incident has occurred at an underground mining operation, a working environment requiring maintenance of the very highest of safety standards and yet this unfortunate situation still arose.
“It is particularly discouraging that this happened in Queensland, which is the only jurisdiction in Australia to impose specific controls over the use of hydrocarbon refrigerants.
“While VASA applauds the Queensland Government for having numerous measures in place to prevent improper use of highly flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants, it seems that in this case the enforcement aspect has been lacking.”
The RSHQ’s initial findings into the recent Queensland incident are that the air-conditioning system was “charged with a refrigerant containing propane and isobutane (hydrocarbon) instead of compliance with the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) requirement which stipulates the use of R134a refrigerant”.
It also reports that the truck’s air-conditioning system “was not certified for the use of the hydrocarbon refrigerant” and that the service personnel who maintained and charged the truck’s air-conditioning system did not hold the requisite Queensland Gas Work Licenses for working with this particular refrigerant.
“Despite the extra precautions taken in Queensland, federal legislation means it is still possible for any unlicensed person to obtain hydrocarbon refrigerant and the necessary tools to set up shop without having to undergo the auditing requirements that apply to licensed air-conditioning technicians,” he said.
“Governments and industry need to do a better job of making people clear on their legal responsibilities, and what is or is not safe.”