The survey by Stephen Gill Associates also revealed that 30% of sites had no, or inadequate, risk assessments for their ammonia refrigeration systems.
The ATEX 137 Directive, formally adopted into law in the UK in 2003, requires all companies operating with areas classified as ‘hazardous’ (this includes areas containing ammonia plant) classify their production areas into zones and assess the risks both to their employees and their plant assets. While the majority of the sites in the survey had DSEAR assessments for the rest of the site, the ammonia refrigeration plants had been by-passed as they were considered “too specialist”.
It was not just the DSEAR/ATEX legislation giving operators problems to meet their legal obligations. The duties imposed by the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 (PSSR) relating to pressure systems for use at work and the risk to health and safety were also found to be absent in many cases.
It was found that many operators of ammonia refrigeration systems found it difficult to understand the standards that support the legislation. What was even more surprising was that many of the refrigeration contractors maintaining the systems also gave confusing or inaccurate advice to their clients.
Unfortunately, lack of understanding of the requirements is no excuse for lack of action in the eyes of the HSE, and indeed the insurance companies.
“Certain aspects of DSEAR/ATEX can appear confusing,” admitted Steve Gill of Stephen Gill Associates, “but this legislation is all about personnel safety, allowing the workforce to understand the issues associated with their place of work, and ensuring that the number of accidents and injuries to persons operating in these industries is reduced.”
Many operators were said to be using ammonia-based refrigeration systems for the first time due to changes in environmental laws around refrigerants. All this comes at a time when the HSE is putting a higher priority on health and safety of operations involving flammable materials.
“We are fortunate in this country to have a good safety record when it comes to ammonia refrigeration systems,” said Steve Gill. “Incidents are thankfully few and far between so we were surprised by the high number of sites with inadequate or inappropriate safety procedures in place.”
Stephen Gill Associates are refrigeration consultants who have successfully supported a number of major food producing groups through the compliance process for their ammonia refrigeration plants.