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More effort required

As European RAC contractors’ group Area prepares for next July’s review of the F-Gas regulations, technical committee chairman Graeme Fox sets out the quest for higher standards

Although some countries have successfully implemented strong and workable national legislation to enforce the F-Gas regulation, most have failed to take the bold steps necessary to properly implement it. Most people in the rac sector would include the UK in this latter category.

One of the aims for the review will be to close off loopholes in the original European directive that have served to dilute the effectiveness of the legislation.

The UK rac sector lobbied hard for a mandatory registration scheme for operatives from an early stage in the consultation proceedings. During the government consultation it was pointed out that such a register would be relatively straightforward to introduce, as we already have a well run, well policed operative scheme - the Acrib register.

It was also stressed that making it mandatory was necessary to enable other aspects of the regulation to work effectively. Unfortunately, the Government felt this
was not possible because there was no specific mention of operative registration in the F-Gas regulations.

However, there is a very simple reason for this clause not being spelt out in the EC legislation - it isn’t necessary in most countries. The UK is one of very few places in Europe where we have the freedom to start a business with no mandatory registration of any kind. If you wanted to start an air conditioning contracting business in most European countries, you would first have to register with your local authority and prove your qualifications and competence.

This is why when the UK delegates have lobbied for registration in Europe, our compatriots wonder why we are making such a fuss. We are convinced this issue will have to be addressed in Brussels during the review, as mandatory registration will have to be introduced in the UK to make the regulations work.

But it isn’t just loopholes that will be looked at. The legislation can be made more effective using relatively simple measures, such as banning flare nuts from AC
systems. It has been estimated that flare joints are responsible for around 20 per cent of refrigerant leakage. If manufacturers were required to supply split systems with brazing stubs instead of flare connections on indoor and outdoor units, this would represent a massive reduction in leakage and emission rates.

The other side of the coin is that the standard of brazing needs to be raised as well to improve leak containment. As the 2079 F-Gas assessment incorporatesbrazing, this is likely to be addressed over time. But if there is no mandatory registration there is no way of ensuring that all engineers can braze to a competent
enough standard to meet the F-Gas leakage commitments.

Another looming issue is the supply of holding charges of refrigerant in new systems. Most split systems come with a charge capable of supplying at least a 10 m run of pipework. For many mini-splits this can easily be the total refrigerant charge possible for the maximum pipe run. While non-qualified personnel are prevented from buying bottles of refrigerant under the current UK F-Gas rules, this holding charge provides a clear loophole, allowing cowboys to continue to operate under the radar of competent registration schemes such as Refcom or Acrib.

As long as they can continue to buy split systems and copper tubing without having to prove their competency, such cowboy installers will continue to thrive, so it is imperative that we convince government, both in the UK and Europe, that legislation is needed to enforce restrictions.

But perhaps the most important aspect of any regulatory implementation is how effectively it is policed. Government will have to give our industry real support to implement the law properly, via effective self-policing, so that the F-Gas regulation can successfully achieve its target of lowered emissions.

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