F-Gases are used as refrigerants and in fire-suppression equipment. They are subject to stringent rules about their use and replacement, and those who work with them must be trained, competent and registered to do so.
Many of these requirements are set out in the EU F-Gas Regulation. As a regulation, not a directive, it has direct effect across Europe, and – although aspects of it require implementation through national legislation – the principal requirements are contained in the European legislation.
So what happens when the UK leaves the EU? Even if Theresa May’s Chequers deal goes through in some form, there is still the issue of what replaces the rules in the F-Gas Regulation – and what if there is no deal?
Last month the government released a guidance note1 on ‘Using and trading in fluorinated gases and ozone-depleting substances if there’s no Brexit deal’, setting out how the UK would continue to regulate the trade and use of F-Gases and ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. (See panel for more detail on EU F-Gas and ODS regulations).
The F-Gas Regulation bans certain uses, requires leakage checks, and stipulates that handlers of F-Gas must be trained and certified. Certificates are mutually recognised by EU countries, so someone certified in one EU country can work in another.
The European Commission allocates quotas to businesses, permitting them to place quantities of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) on the EU market each year. The regulation requires the quota to be reduced to achieve a 79% cut against 2009-12 levels by 2030. The greenhouse gas emissions savings delivered by the F-Gas Regulation are counted as a contribution to the savings required to meet UK carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act.
Enforcement of the ODS and F-Gas regulations is mostly devolved – to the Environment Agency in England, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Natural Resources body for Wales, Welsh local authorities, port health authority or Welsh ministers, and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (Daera) and district councils of Northern Ireland.
Whatever happens to the Chequers deal, getting F-Gas competence right for the UK outside the EU could be a matter of life and death
Government says that ‘in the event of a “no deal”, the UK would maintain the same high standards’, and that ‘the majority of the requirements in the EU ODS and F-Gas regulations will continue to apply in the same way after the UK leaves the EU, including in the unlikely event of no deal’. This is clearly essential if we are to meet Montreal Protocol and Climate Change Act obligations.
Current quota systems operate at EU level and apply to companies, not countries. In the event of no deal, a UK quota system will be needed, splitting UK and EU markets. New IT systems for the UK HFC and ODS registry and reporting will be required, but reporting requirements will not change.
Businesses that produce, import or export HFCs, ODS or products and equipment pre-charged with HFCs or ODS would need to apply for a UK quota to place them on the UK market.
A ‘no deal’ Brexit will also have an impact on technicians with competence certificates to work with F-Gases. Those issued by EU-recognised bodies will still be valid in the UK, so technicians holding them may continue to work here.
Those certified by UK bodies are likely to need to be recertified by an EU-recognised body to work in the EU, unless the EU decides to continue recognising such certificates. So technicians from Ireland will be free to work throughout the UK, but the reverse may not apply.
This is an important consequence. There is already confusion and ignorance around work with F-Gases and the requirements for those who do so to be correctly trained and certified. Maintaining high standards requires clarity over the rules for work with F-Gases after 29 March 2019.
It also requires continuing education and awareness of the potential risks of working with flammable refrigerants – as the tragic deaths of Barry Purtell and David Lobb, two untrained workers in the state of Victoria, Australia, demonstrates. The two men died after gases from a refrigeration compressor ignited in the cellar of the Hotel Rochester, Bendigo, in June 20142.
Regulation 1005/2009 on ODS implements the Montreal Protocol and restricts the use of chemicals that damage the ozone layer. It bans certain products containing ODS and requires companies to control leakages, report on their usage, and seek a licence to import or export ODS. The regulation also enables the European Commission to set quotas for companies to allow them to place limited quantities of ODS on the market for certain permitted activities.
The F-Gas Regulation (517/2014) is phasing down use of HFCs, the main group of F-Gases, to help mitigate climate change and implement obligations under the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs globally by 2036. However, the F-Gas Regulation requires a faster rate of phase-down than the Montreal Protocol, and extends controls to a larger number of F-Gases.
The two men, who were not qualified refrigeration technicians, were helping to close down the hotel by removing the refrigeration compressor in the basement. The coroner noted that the ‘deaths highlight the dangers of unqualified people doing work that requires qualifications or, at least, a solid understanding of the substances and risks involved’.
The coroner said the move to flammable refrigerants with lower global warming potential will exacerbate the challenge of ensuring that those working with these gases are competent to do so safely.
He referred to the evidence of Phil Wilkinson, manager of government relations and technical services at the Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating, who explained that fewer than 1% of air conditioning technicians in Australia are trained to work with flammable, and sometimes toxic, refrigerant gases. This shows that, whatever happens to the Chequers deal, getting the F-Gas training and competence regime right for the UK outside the EU could be a matter of life and death.
CIBSE is working with the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board to raise awareness in government and parliament3 that this is a serious matter of public and workplace safety. Members specifying, installing or maintaining refrigeration systems need to be well aware.
- Defra, Using and trading in fluoronated gases and ozone-depleting substances if there’s no Brexit deal, 13 September 2018.
- Coroners Court of Victoria, Finding: Inquest into the death of David William Lobb.
- Acrib, Environmental Audit Committee F-Gas Report, 25 April 2018.
Hywel Davies is technical director at CIBSE