The UK’s departure from the EU creates an opportunity “to finally deal with the rogue operatives who continue to plague the refrigeration and air conditioning sector”, according to the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).
The UK will continue to mirror the rules set by the European F-Gas regulations to drive reductions in harmful emissions from refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, but Brexit gives it the freedom to go further by setting up a national register of individual operatives, argues the body.
It says that this has “long been regarded as a way to tackle the problem of unqualified people carrying out sub-standard work by making it harder for them to buy equipment and refrigerant gas” but that “it was never a priority for the EU and was dropped from the original plans for the F-Gas regulations”.
BESA’s head of technical, Graeme Fox, told a recent BESA webinar: “Our European partners never saw the need for such a register. We lobbied for it in the early days, but most European countries don’t have the same problem we have because they have much stricter rules about who can set up a business.
“Here the barriers to entry into technical professions are very low, which means pretty much anyone can set up a contracting business. Not being able to do a job has not stopped people winning a job in this country.”
Some individual engineers can be traced through the mandatory REFCOM register of companies, but the industry has a very transient workforce and operatives change employers frequently.
Many of the small units used in residential applications come pre-charged with flammable refrigerant gas and BESA is concerned that these remain too easy for DIYers and unqualified installers to buy – particularly online.
A mandatory certification scheme would help because suppliers could only sell to those on the register.
Online forums have helped the Environment Agency identify several instances of poor standard work and prosecute offenders, but currently, the only register of operatives is a voluntary one run by the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board (ACRIB). Creating a mandatory scheme would also underpin the push for higher professional standards and improved training across the sector.
However, it is not just the rogue installers who present a problem, according to Fox. Many qualified installers also need retraining and upskilling. This problem is shared by the rest of Europe – former EU partners are equally concerned that the lack of skills will hinder the uptake of new lower GWP gases.
“Although City & Guilds qualifications do not require renewal on a regular basis in the same way that other types of qualification do, the underpinning knowledge and requirements of certification that drive the standards change over time. Without reassessment and renewal courses there is the very real possibility of working practices becoming obsolete and outdated,” said Fox.
Many engineers have upskilled already by taking the BESA ACRIB Flammables training course, but there remain many thousands of engineers without the basic skills needed to transition safely.
Image credit | Ken Kitti-Shutterstock