In the evolution produced by the enhancement of technological research and development in the gas world, the debate is focusing on two boosts, environmental impact and efficiency, which are absolutely central, but an issue of which we would like to highlight the need of more attention, the plant safety, is passing into the background or remains behind the scenes. Not because it is not ruled but because it is not a variable with the right weight in the consideration of options.
We are facing a great transformation, which engages all, gas manufacturers and distributors, machine and plant producers, installers and maintenance technicians in an evolution that concerns all aspects of work and has highlighted two targets that must be reconciled in the buyer’s interest: efficiency and environmental impact reduction.
No customer is in fact ready to pay sustainability costs with inefficiencies, because the energy crisis has come to rule that efficiency is a primary target, but it is as true that no operator is allowed neglecting the environmental emergency and the consequences of incongruous behaviours, both aware or unaware.
Therefore, any choice that privileges natural gases must be corrected in terms of TEWI and LCA and any choice in favour of synthetic gases must have a clear impact management capability in terms of utmost reduction of losses and propensity for the use of low-charge solutions.
Speaking again of the matter in its totality, safety needs awareness and then it is worth highlighting some irremissible aspects, starting from the risk assessment.
Actually, we are saying that the risks generated by the technology adopted must be defined referring to a refrigerating plant, the production central unit and the channels that conveys the heat-carrying fluid into peripheral units, as well as to all elements in which the heat exchange takes place. If this technology changes owing to a retrofit made mandatory by a law of environmental character, the risks connected with the plant might change. Therefore, if we replace a refrigerant in A1 category with a refrigerant in A2L category we must be aware that management rules change and then we should define the plant’s safety parameters and plant operators’ knowledge, considering the increased riskiness determined by the refrigerant change!
A matter, the latter, that goes far beyond the mere assessment about the circuit tightness, especially in retrofit situations: considering that those who handle these gases no more deal with refrigerants in A1 class, but increasingly often with slightly flammable gases.
Awareness and training
Besides, when we speak of other solutions, we get to talk about explosiveness or toxicity: what allows dealing with these situations? First of all, awareness, we have said it, an awareness that is achieved through training that is no longer “only” technical but grounded on the Legislative Decree 81 dated 2008, the so-called Unique Text for Safety, which has then gained a due space in the refrigerator technician’s small library, because if this operator must deal with propane or ammonia, he must know very well the rules for the handling of a risky element.
However, mentioning the Lgs. D. 81 we enter a field in which takes over also another task of those handling synthetic or natural refrigerant that is characterized by precise risk factors. Therefore, we are in the serene condition of affirming that designer and installer must be able to provide the owners of activities hosting plants with all necessary information to be able to integrate their risk assessment document.
Such information are those contained in the use and maintenance manual that, in its turn, is the result of the risk assessment carried by machine designers.
Moreover, still the employer (as per Lgs. D. 81/08) of the plant engineering company will assess, in documented manner, all risks residing in installers’ and maintenance technicians’ work, with operational safety plan or specific procedure depending on the case (installation yard or simple maintenance).
Therefore, concretely and operatively, it will be necessary to provide the writer of the Risk Assessment Document with a precise structured outline of the questions generated by the refrigerating plant, according to the Unique Text, to give to those in duty the elements to define safety practices to be adopted, in formal and precise manner, and to establish the training activities aimed at making the operators, directly or indirectly in contact with the plant, aware of the behaviour rules to be adopted.