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Hydrocarbon fridge engineers should be licensed - Tamahere coroner

THE coroner who conducted the inquest into the death of the New Zealand firefighter killed in the 2008 Tamahere coldstore explosion has called on the New Zealand government to introduce a licensing scheme for refrigeration engineers involved in the installation or handling of hydrocarbon refrigerants. In his findings following the September 2011 inquest, coroner Peter Ryan also recommended a scheme for the licensing and inspection for installations using hazardous substances posing a significant threat to life or property.
The fatal incident in April 2008, which also severely injured seven other firefighters, occurred when the fire team responded to an alarm at the coldstore. Unbeknown to them, the 4,000m2 coldstore employed 402kg of Hychill Minus 50, a commercially available propane-based refrigerant. Inside the facility they found what appeared to be smoke or vapour but no warning signs that the facility contained the flammable refrigerant. Seconds later a massive explosion occurred, sending flames ten of metres into the air and killing Derek Lovell and injuring his colleagues.

In addition to his recommendations to the New Zealand Department of Labour, he also called on the refrigeration industry to widely publicise the lessons learned from the Tamahere incident and introduce best practice guidelines for the safe use of hazardous substances when used as refrigerants.

He also called for the introduction of a registration scheme for personnel with responsibility for aspects of the industry with the potential for serious risk to life or property. An obvious example, he pointed out, was refrigeration engineers designing, installing and maintaining refrigeration systems capable of using hydrocarbon-based refrigerants.

Training providers were also asked to incorporate the safe use of A3 (flammable) refrigerants in any syllabus for refrigeration training and the industry as a whole to be more proactive in addressing its statutory health and safety obligations, particularly in relation to A3 refrigerants.

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