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Enforcement is the key to proper regulation

Can Defra really ensure that the F-Gas regulations are taken seriously by all levels of the industry?

So, put your hand up if you responded to the government consultation on implementation of F-Gas?

We did our best to make a fuss on racplus about it, but given that Defra put it out in mid-December, to my sceptical mind, it seemed, well, designed not to attract attention.

The consultation contained some surprising revelations. For starters, there was the fact that inspectors will have powers to seize documents where they suspect infringement of the regulations, but only in office hours.

The list of powers being considered by Defra sounds like an improvement on the previous F-Gas regime.

It is there in black and white in the consultation (“there have been no prosecutions”) – at least there are plans to have an improvement notice scheme like the Health and Safety Executive use, where a non-compliant firm is given a certain number of days to sort out their affairs.

In fairness to Defra, this form of censure might have existed for the last F-Gas, but if it did, no one publicised it.

Incidentally, the HSE publishes all its improvement notices on a publicly accessible database at hse.gov.uk/notices. Is that something we can expect for the cooling industry?

But all the good intentions are somewhat undermined by the other bombshell in the consultation document.

Buried at the back is the fact that the entire F-Gas inspection regime will be presided over by just two Environment Agency inspectors.

We all know that F-Gas is a pretty paperwork-heavy regime to begin with, so that’s a hefty workload to start with.

But then there is the small issue of an estimated 425,000 additional systems that come within scope of inspection for the first time.

Can these two inspectors really ensure that the F-Gas regulations are taken seriously by all levels of the industry?

That the firms involved have all the appropriate company certification; that engineers are individually certified; that the end-users who are newly within scope have the appropriate regimes for leak detection and inspection in place? Not complying is an illegal act.

Because one thing is certain: there are still firms that think it is acceptable to share one F-gas certificate among their workforce and it is still possible for anyone off the street to get HFCs in a can.

These are things that need sorting out. If it is down to the industry to police itself – and those inspector numbers suggest it is – then we should be given the resources to do it.

The starting point should be funding and support for a pan-European database for F-Gas certificates to enable easy checking of bona fide businesses.

And then surely what we also need is an equally straightforward way of reporting those who don’t comply and a commitment from government that they will act on the information. Is it time to revive our campaign for a LeakStoppers phoneline?


Readers' comments (5)

  • Defra have once again treated the opinions and wishes of our industry bodies with polite indifference. For all the talk they intend to do nothing. They are not even making a show it. The wishes of the RAC industry’s leading bodies and authorities have been treated as unimportant, and not for the first time. Defra are not even pretending that the recent stakeholder’s meeting was anything more than a box ticking exercise. They have now held it, albeit with a nonchalant air that smacked more of apathy than any real desire to learn anything that they could act upon.

    Like it or not, our industry voices are seen as insignificant. They are treated with disrespect. The lack of any meaningful response to our wishes reveals the level of disdain and contempt with which this Defra hold this industry. Both parties can dress it up as much as they like but the truth is our input is considered irrelevant; without value; worthless.

    Is that how we want to be viewed? We have accepted being ignored for so long that yet another example comes as so little a surprise, we greet it with a shrug, because it truth, we hadn’t really expected anything else. How pathetic is that? How many times are we just going to roll over and play dead?

    For all the hard work and energy of some very knowledgeable and well-meaning people from our industry, the truth is that we have naught to show for it. Not only that, with every beating we accept, the level of disrespect grows to a level where Defra can barely be bothered show us any common courtesy . Not only do we have no teeth, we have no self-respect either.

    So our voice is ineffective. What happens to all the time and money spent on our illustrious trade associations and registration schemes? Are we wasting our industry money? The F-Gas Implementation Group needs to evolve into an action group. For it is action that we require now, not more information and seminars.

    Enough is enough. It is time that we did something about it

    It is an insult to our intelligence, to say nothing of our wallets, that we have forked out millions as an industry on F-Gas training and registration only to be told that Defra actually don’t give too hoots who complies with the legislation and who doesn’t. Their lack of any enforcement is a blatant two finger sign to those who dare to request some protection for their investment. Worse than that, it is also a positive message to the cowboys to flaunt the law as it doesn’t really matter enough to warrant any action. The message from Defra is save your money and your time; we won’t be coming after you because we don’t consider it important. More fool them who have invested to comply.

    It is time for all our industry groups and interested parties to work together and actually do something positive. We need to proactively protect ourselves. The unavoidable truth is that we need to police ourselves as no one else it going to do it. We need to bring prosecutions against those that do not comply. A daunting prospect? Yes, of course it is. Anyone that says that this isn’t possible or that it isn’t a role that our industry should undertake is playing right into Defra’s hands. Listen carefully to want is being said and by whom. We don’t need any more professional meeting attendees purporting to represent this industry. Are we Defra’s lap-dog or do we actually want to be considered as a profession?

    Come on RAC industry, stop being a talking shop full of hot air. Do we want to be taken seriously or not? Was all that F-Gas training and registration just a money making exercise or is there a really passion out there to raise our game and improve or industry’s credentials?

    It is time this industry grew a pair when it comes to self-regulation. We can invest in self-regulation or continue be the obedient performing dog that keeps Defra so amused by our inadequacy and inept performance. Are we really going to sit here waiting for Defra to throw us another bone in the form of another consultation? Are FETA going to change their name to FIDO (which is a Latin name meaning "I am faithful").
    We have been made to look like fools for long enough. Time to stop barking and actually show that we have some bite. No more forums please, just all get our combined act together and do something ourselves for once.

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  • Fantastic comment Jason. A really good read. Do you really think that FIDO and our other trade bodies can work together to achieve this? What do you think to Andrew's suggestion of a LeakStoppers phone line?

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  • We asked FETA to respond to Jason's bold challenge.
    Here is their response:

    “ACRIB has of course responded to the consultation formally on behalf of the trade associations and professional institutes that it represents – one of which is FETA. ACRIB broadly accepted the proposals and its responses were endorsed by EPEE, AREA and CIBSE.

    Supplementary to the formal responses to the questions posed, ACRIB also took the opportunity to reinforce the industry’s support for a mandatory, low cost National Database, similar to the ACRIB F Gas Skillscard for individual certification.
    It is felt that this could mitigate some of the cost of compliance and assist in the enforcement process.

    Drawing on the standing and reputation of an industry which takes a considered and professional attitude to its responsibilities, ACRIB maintains a close and constructive relationship with both DEFRA and the EA and will continue to act in the best interests of the varied stakeholders, acknowledging that at times some will have conflicting views.”

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  • I read this quote this morning and thought that it applies perfectly to this situation:

    "I am thankful for all of those who said NO to me. It's because of them I'm doing it myself"

    Albert Einstein

    Seems that this industry is no genius because we would rather quietly accept a NO to policing than actual self-regulate.

    As always, this dismissal by DEFRA has now put an end to it, and what was a hot subject has gone quiet again.

    Either policing is an issue or it isn't. Most in this industry think or say that it is, but just accept a NO. So, we stay the DEFRA lap-dog that we are

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  • I hadn't realised that Sir Humphrey Appleby worked at FETA until I read the reply to Jason.

    Talk about dodging the question. This was a political maneuver that should not be welcomed in the RAC industry.

    It is the lamest answer I have ever read. No wonder Jason didn't bother to respond to it. He is probably as confused by it as the rest of us

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