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Brexit could drive out rogue installers

UK: Brexit has created a real opportunity to deal with rogue air conditioning and refrigeration operatives who continue to blight the industry, according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

While the UK will continue to mirror the rules set by the European F-Gas regulations to drive reductions in harmful emissions from refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, BESA argues that Brexit gives the UK the freedom to go further by setting up a national register of individual operatives.

The UK has always argued the need for an operative register, as far back as the drafting of the original F-gas regulation in 2003. This was regarded in the UK as a way to tackle the problem of unqualified people carrying out sub-standard work by making it harder for them to buy equipment and refrigerant gas. However, as the rest of Europe regulates its industries in a different way, these proposal were never adopted.

Graeme Fox, BESA’s head of technical, explained: “Our European partners never saw the need for such a register. We lobbied for it in the early days, but most European countries don’t have the same problem we have because they have much stricter rules about who can set up a business.

“Here the barriers to entry into technical professions are very low, which means pretty much anyone can set up a contracting business. Not being able to do a job has not stopped people winning a job in this country.” 

BESA argues that some individual engineers can be traced through the mandatory REFCOM register of companies, but the industry has a very transient workforce and operatives change employers frequently.

In most European countries if you want to start a business in a town you have to go to the local mayor, or the city hall with the necessary evidence of qualifications before you can start up as a business.

“In the UK pretty much anyone can start a business. They don’t have to prove their competence or qualifications to anybody,” Graeme Fox said in a recent BESA webinar.

Flammable training and safety 

With the UK continuing to follow the phase down programme established by the F-Gas regulation, there are increasing concerns about the widening use of ‘alternative’ gases including a number that are flammable.

“Some of the new gases being used to replace HFCs are only very mildly flammable, but we are seeing greater use of propane in systems, for example, and this needs careful handling,” said Fox. 

“None of the new lower GWP substances represent a serious challenge to experienced and qualified engineers who have updated their skills, but the risk posed by untrained and uncertified installers is a real cause for concern.”

Many of the small units used in residential applications come pre-charged with flammable refrigerant gas and BESA is concerned that these remain too easy for DIYers and unqualified installers to buy – particularly online. A mandatory certification scheme would help because suppliers could only sell to those on the register.

The air conditioning and refrigeration industry and environmental groups are jointly lobbying for training and certification of operatives handling alternative refrigerants to be included within the revision of the F-gas regulation now under review.

Related stories:

Pressure mounts to add alternatives to F-gas regs6 January 2021
BELGIUM: Pressure is growing on the European Commission from both industry and environmental groups to include alternative refrigerants within the F-gas training and certification process. Read more…

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