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80% of ammonia refrigeration systems fail

According to a survey of more than 100 ammonia refrigeration systems operating in food manufacturing facilities in the UK, fewer than 20% met DSEAR and ATEX Legislation.

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

The ATEX 137 Directive was formally adopted into law in the UK in 2003 and requires that all companies operating with areas, (including those containing ammonia refrigeration plant), classed 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 assessments for the rest of the site, the ammonia refrigeration plants had been ‘by-passed’ as they were considered ‘too specialist’.

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

It was found that many operators of ammonia refrigeration systems found it difficult to understand the standards that support the legislation. 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. 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. Certain aspects of DSEAR/ATEX can appear confusing, 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 people operating in these industries is reduced.

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. 

Stephen Gill said: “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”. 




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