Is the industry ready for F-Gas?
In a significant step to address the building services industry’s environmental impact, by July 2009, every contracting company that deals with refrigerants will need to be accredited as competent in its F-Gas handling processes. This will not only be mandatory but also vital to secure business, as end-users will be legally bound to ensure operatives handling refrigerants on their behalf are F-Gas qualified and that their employing company is registered with the approved accreditation body.
REFCOM has been operating for 14 years, during which time compliance has been completely voluntary. Through the REFCOM accreditation process, companies demonstrate that they conform to the Environmental Protection Act and are conversant and compliant not just with F-Gas but with all the other regulations that have been introduced.
Even though companies have been aware for some time now that F-Gas compliance will become mandatory, so far there are only 350 accredited companies on the REFCOM register, a small fraction of the total number of contracting companies that will be affected by the F-Gas regulations. It is encouraging that we are now signing-up between eight and 15 new companies each month, but even at this rate there will be many companies not accredited by the cut-off date, jeopardising their business operations.
REFCOM has been co-operating with DEFRA on the development of company registration together with an operative register. We have emphasised the importance of company registration, as it is the company that will provide the training to the operatives and ensure they are fully qualified. It is the company that must put policies and procedures into place to ensure compliance with legislation and it is the company that is the first stop in any legal prosecution should an operative break the law during the course of their work.
Some F-Gas suppliers, including IDS and RPW, have already introduced voluntary sales initiatives, only selling refrigerant to properly competent and qualified individuals and companies. REFCOM is currently helping BOC to implement their own voluntary scheme.
At the other end of the chain, manufacturers are already insisting that their installers are accredited. Toshiba has made it a mandatory requirement for their top installers to be REFCOM accredited and Hitachi is helping their top 50 installers gain REFCOM accreditation. End-user organisations such as Space Airconditioning and BT Networks have been accredited REFCOM members for several years, whilst Mitsubishi and Daikin recommend membership to their customers. These companies, and many others, are demonstrating to the industry and to customers that they are committed to caring for the environment, and that they and the businesses they work with are highly professional.
REFCOM’s existing customers have stated categorically that they believe all contractors should follow the current REFCOM scheme because it was designed and developed by refrigeration and air conditioning contractors who know the industry best. The REFCOM scheme actually goes beyond the F-Gas requirements in terms of audit trails and the biggest fear is that other accreditation schemes may be introduced that will not be as stringent.
Audits are not mentioned in the regulation, but as REFCOM knows from 14 years of operating its scheme, they are the only method of proving a company does exactly what it claims. Without audits, it would not be possible to supply the EU Commission with accurate and verifiable data – data that will demonstrate the leakage rate of refrigerants is being cut and that the industry is raising its standards in order to make a significant contribution to UK PLC’s reduction in global warming, greenhouse gas emissions.
A key concern is that, unless there is a level playing field for all contractors within the industry and unless the regulations are rigorously policed and enforced, the F-Gas legislation will not be effective. If this is the case, and leakage rates do not improve, the next step that the EU Commission may take is to ban HFCs altogether and that would be catastrophic for all players in the industry.
Along with many REFCOM accredited companies, I believe the F-Gas regulations are good news for the industry and excellent news for the environment. However, companies must commit to the legislation by registering with an accreditation scheme as soon as possible.