There is overwhelming support for a national licensing model that covers all refrigerants, according to the results of an industry-wide survey undertaken by the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating (AIRAH).
The survey results have been used to create a position statement for HVACR licensing in Australia.
Developed by AIRAH’s Refrigeration Special Technical Group, the statement will be used as an advocacy tool for government.
AIRAH CEO, Tony Gleeson, said licensing is a key issue in the creation of a highly skilled and professional HVACR workforce.
“By defining our position on this topic, we can guarantee a consistent approach and better advocate with stakeholders and government for change,” he said.
More than 900 respondents completed the survey with technicians accounting for 75 per cent of the total, 10 per cent were engineers and the remainder were a mix of apprentices, educators, representatives from government and industry groups, manufacturers and wholesalers.
A nationally harmonised approach to licensing that covers all refrigerants was supported by 94.21 per cent of respondents while support for a Certificate III qualification (or equivalent) as the minimum qualification for installing, commissioning, maintaining and decommissioning stationary HVACR systems was 95.39 per cent.
There was also support (92.38 per cent) for more professional development including pathways to bridge the skills gap.
Survey respondents provided about 750 detailed comments over and above the survey.
Concerns raised include divisions between HVACR, plumbing and electrical work, as well as issues relating to Certificate II holders.
Workers with a Certificate II qualification (360 hours of training as opposed to over 1,000 hours training for a Certificate III qualification) can obtain an Australian Refrigeration Council (ARC) refrigerant handling licence.
Although the limited ARC licence only allows workers to install certain systems, the AIRAH Position Statement points to anecdotal evidence which suggests Certificate II workers are installing, commissioning and servicing equipment that they are not licensed to work on.
“This has a two-fold effect of increasing direct emissions (from leaked/vented refrigerant) and indirect emissions (from inefficient systems) as well as increasing safety issues,” according to the statement.
At the state and territory level, licensing for HVACR technicians varies across the country. Some states, such as New South Wales, require all work to be done by Certificate III-qualified RAC technicians. All other states and the ARC-hosted scheme allow Certificate II-qualified trades to perform some tasks by way of a restricted licence commensurate with competency.
Safety was a big concern with fears untrained technicians are working with new-generation refrigerants without the correct training.
There are currently around 100,000 licence holders in Australia. Licences are mandatory for purchasing, handling and working on systems that use synthetic (CFC/HCFC/HFC) gases.
No Australian Refrigeration Council (ARC) license is required, however, to work with natural refrigerants such as carbon dioxide, ammonia or hydrocarbons, or the new generation of synthetic refrigerants called hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs).
“Today, about 90 per cent of refrigerants in use in Australia are covered by the ARC licences. But as we transition to alternative refrigerants through the HFC phase-down, this will decrease,” according to the Position Statement.
“By 2030, only around 70 per cent of the refrigerant bank will be covered by ARC licences. It is AIRAH’s position that any scheme should cover all refrigerants, to limit both direct and indirect emissions.”
“We acknowledge that this is a complex issue – HVACR licensing has been debated in Australia for decades,” Gleeson said.
Almost a quarter of all electricity generated in Australia is used to power HVACR systems, and around 80 per cent of this electricity is generated using fossil fuels. Through its energy use, HVACR contributes significantly to the country’s emissions.