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F-Day deadline approaches

With the F-Gas deadline looming later this year RAC consults the industry to get their feelings on the implications of certification.

It may not have escaped your attention that the F-Gas deadline is rapidly approaching. After the 4th July individuals carrying out activities covered by the F-Gas Regulation can no longer operate legally unless qualified.

Furthermore, companies employing personnel who carry out these activities must have full company F-Gas Certification – interim certifications will no longer be valid.

However, it seems there’s still some way to go until the industry has fully signed-up, according to the latest figures from the three organisations employed to handle certification.

Refcom’s latest registration figures do not make for positive reading. So far 4,323 companies have registered with Refcom – 3,813 have obtained interim certification, while just 510 have full certification.

Bureau Veritas has so far recorded 150 with interim and 150 with full certification, while Quidos have registered 54 for full certification and 112 with interim.

Defra put the total figure needed at around 15,000. This contrasts somewhat with estimates by Summit Skills, which has previously stated the total number at around 20,000.

Though however way you look at it there needs to be thousands put through training in the next five months, with the potential reality of a significant percentage of companies operating illegally.

ACRIB, which met Defra in October to discuss the matter, stated at the time that existing training providers do not have the capacity to cope with the numbers when the inevitable rush occurs in the coming months, and that current demand for training is less than 50 per cent of available capacity.

John Ellis, managing director of Ellis Training, says: “I’d be surprised if F-Gas certification is met by everyone before the deadline. If 30,000 people had previously had previously registered for the City and Guilds Safe Handling qualification, giving an indication of numbers, I’m not sure where Defra are getting their figures from?

“We’re currently at 50 per cent capacity, and we know that other companies are only running a few courses a week - based on that it’s hard to believe that the shortfall will be made up by July. Many believe that the interim certificate means they’re already certified.”

Paul Singh, training consultant with training academy Chill Air (UK), concurs, stating that the course makeup will cause an inevitable training bottleneck as the date draws closer.

“Due to the nature of the training programme, which is concluded over several days, with a maximum of three persons per trainer, there is little movement to absorb such a huge amount within the next few months.”

Mr Singh also warns that prices may increase as the deadline approaches, “As the date gets closer we may see training companies inflating their fees to take advantage of a last minute rush to get qualified. I’ve already heard of providers doing this.”

Mr Ellis partly cites the lack of enforcement by Defra as a contributor to the apathy in gaining certification.

“There is currently little incentive for companies to go through the training process. End users are still employing contractors without F-Gas certification oblivious to the consequences.

“There needs to be rigorous policing to bring people in check, examples should be made, even this enforcement just is for a short time to get the message across.

Mike Nankivell, chairman of the ACRIB F-Gas implementation group concurs on the subject of enforcement. “It’s fair to say that, as certification is not being actively policed, people are not necessarily inclined to take it up.”

“The view from Defra is that compliance should be encouraged, not enforced. I’d be keener to see penalties given to companies that don’t adhere to best practise, targeting poor installations and poorly trained employees.”

And who is there to police the F-Gas regulation when out in the field? Due to registration being the responsibility of exterior bodies it’s potentially difficult to ensure compliance.

This is in contrast to the generally held belief within the industry that the self-regulation approach was far more credible and feasible, which would be policed via the supply chain and gas suppliers.

Mr Nankivell says: “Placing the onus on the supplier would be a good thing. A number of suppliers have already offered to do this.”

Mr Nankivell also believes that the focus by F-Gas Support should move away from focusing on making sure supermarkets achieve F-Gas compliancy, and concentrate on another area of industry affected by leakage.

“At the start of the campaign Defra identified supermarkets at the top of a group of four areas which were seen as major gas emitters. It therefore channelled its resources towards these retailers to make sure they achieved compliancy.

“This attention now needs to switch to the category ranked second – offices. There needs to be a concerted effort on educating that group. I want to see F-Gas Support moving down the scale.”

Mr Nankivell believes that this group needs to be made aware of the wider implications of F-Gas certification. “It’s not just about training building managers, but making them aware regarding employing uncertified companies to carry out maintenance etc.”

Defra has stated that there will be a review of F-Gas in July, however it’s predicted that little change will be instigated at that time.

Graeme Fox, AREA president, says: “The forthcoming review will not see any change in the F-Gas legislation in my opinion. It will just be a ‘where are we now?’ review to see if it has been successful.

“However, we’ve been telling them for months about the failings so it’s a little bizarre that they have to go through a further consultation. In terms of a change this won’t be happening until December.”

“Our suggestion on a ban on pre-charged units helps maintain the supply chain, however this has been met with firm resistance from retailers and manufacturers - unsurprisingly, the two businesses who would suffer.

“While we have been putting forward suggestions to create a workable F-Gas legislation others have been commenting but doing nothing. We just want a workable F-Gas legislation.”

What’s also of concern is the actual cost of training. ACRIB estimates that a full five day training and assessment course is £875.

However, Nick Jamieson, managing director at contracting firm Ryan Jayberg puts that figure much higher in certain cases.

“Staff that have been in the industry 20 years, and away from the classroom for a significant amount of time, are going to need more than the standard training to get them up to speed. In some cases this can mean a cost of up to £3,500.

“Big companies may be able to absorb such a cost, however certain businesses just don’t have the resources, and this will inevitably have a knock-on effect.”

That effect will be a surge in the job market once the deadline has been reached.

“This divide (in certification) will inevitably push salaries up, together with qualified engineers being poached by other companies who need a quick fix. It’s a real concern for operators.”

Mr Jamieson suggests an extension of the deadline of a further six months to a year, to give companies more time to prepare.

Replying to RAC on the subject F-Gas Support states, “F-Gas support has been working with the three designated certification bodies to ensure that all relevant organisations are certified and that those holding an interim certificate are aware that it provides compliance only until July this year.

“Our market intelligence work shows that the majority of contractors operating in the commercial and industrial RAC markets are compliant - less than 5 per cent of companies in these markets are non compliant.

“F-Gas Support and Defra are discussing the best means of encouraging businesses to move from an interim Company Certification to a full Company Certification by the July deadline and to determine methods for chasing those that haven’t are quickly followed up after the deadline. These plans should be finalised in the next month.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • Should "Refcom" naming just one be getting in touch with there members directly? ( I did pay to be a member what do I get for that?) I have not been approached as yet, But I have booked on to a course for march 2011! Lets hope that I pass as I have been in the trade for some 37 years now..(A very long time since being trained originally)

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