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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?


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