Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Survey finds 80% of UK ammonia refrigeration fails to meet dangerous substances standards

A survey of over 100 ammonia refrigeration systems operating in food manufacturing facilities in the UK found that under 20% met legislation covering dangerous and explosive materials.  

The survey by consultant Stephen Gill Associates also revealed that 30% of sites had either no risk assessment or inadequate ones for their ammonia refrigeration systems.

Principal Stephen Gill said: “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.”

The ATEX 137 Directive on explosive substances requires that all companies operating with areas, (including those containing ammonia refrigeration plant), classified as ‘Hazardous’ 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 (Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmosphere Regulations) assessments for the rest of the site, the ammonia refrigeration plants had been ‘by-passed’ as they were considered ‘too specialist’, according to the consultancy.

 It was not just the DSEAR/ATEX legislation giving operators problems to meet their legal obligations, the consultancy said.  “The duties imposed by the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations 2000 (PSSR) relating to pressure systems for use at work and the risk to health&safety were also found to absent in many cases.”

The company discovered that many operators of ammonia refrigeration systems found it difficult to understand the standards that support the legislation. Mr Gill said: “What was even more surprising was that many of the refrigeration contractors maintaining the systems also were gave confusing or inaccurate advice to their clients.”  

Certain aspects of DSEAR/ATEX can appear confusing, he added, 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.

The company found that many operators were 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. 

Mr Gill added: “We are fortunate in this country to have a good safety record when it comes to ammonia refrigeration systems.  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”. 

Readers' comments (2)

  • This is a really important news item. In my experience the percentage of plants failing to comply to the regulations is much higher, possibly even 98%.
    The regulations can be confusing and so there is a tenancy to just do some and to follow the advice of the installing contractor. This is not the right approach
    What is worse is that there is an increase in the number of inexperienced contractors installing ammonia refrigeration after they have advised the end user to move away from HCFC/HFCs.
    Traditionally, insurance companies are used to check compliance but as the survey confirms, these organisations rarely use inspectors with sound refrigeration knowledge and so they by-pass the refrigeration systems
    I am glad that some one has finally flagged this up as the natural refrigerants lobby are pushing us to use more ammonia.
    The news item falls short of saying that any plants are unsafe, but rest assured, ammonia is an excellent refrigerant but potentially a very dangerous one. This is a time bomb of a disaster waiting to happen.
    Good article

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Fortunately accidents are few and far between but when they occur they can prove fatal.
    Ammonia is a good refrigerant and can be safe, but it is alarming just how ill informed many current operators now are.
    I am also glad that someone has finally spoken up and raised this unpopular topic
    . Manufacturers, designers and installers will all be wanting to sell more plant. They must be honest and acknowledge that there are huge gaps in H&S practice by many end-users due to lack of knowledge.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.