By Jim Taylor, Editor MACS ACtion Magazine
This one has nothing to do with cars and everything to do with safety. Last Saturday an incident occurred not too far from the MACS office that resulted in one death and three hospital treatments.
In mid-morning, a hired work crew returned to an empty office building to continue their work of removing trash, scrap metal and excess equipment from the property prior to its sale. Two workers entered the lower level to open the loading dock garage doors. Within a very short time, one worker collapsed and the other felt very ill.
The second worker managed to escape the area and alert the other two outside. While they called 911, he returned inside to attempt to rescue his fallen partner. The re-entry only accentuated his condition, but eventually all three retrieved the unconscious victim.
In spite of their efforts and the prompt response by medics, firefighters and the county Hazadous Materials Response Unit, the first worker was pronounced dead at the nearby hospital. The other three underwent fairly intense treatment. But what happenened?—what was in the room that disabled the first pair?
It didn’t take long to determine that refrigerant had escaped from the building’s HVAC system in an adjoining room and displaced the normal air, yielding a hazardous environment without any clues by odor, sight or taste. It’s a large building and the system likely held several pounds of refrigerant which dispersed into the area. It’s safe to assume that the refrigerant wasn’t R-134a but more likely something in the R-400 family, gases commonly used in stationary units.
No one I’ve spoken to, including fire and rescue personnel, could provide an exact identity for the product beyond naming it as “a commercial refrigerant.” The Pa. State Police, OSHA, and other agencies continue to investigate the situation, but reports immediately after the accident stated that “…the cooling system was pressurized, but some valves had been opened allowing the gas to escape…”
That’s the mystery – did the work crew start venting the system prior to moving towards the loading doors? Was someone else in the building overnight? Was it a mechanical system failure? It will probably be while until anything solid is known but a man still died as a result.
The lesson: In some ways, all refrigerants are the same—they displace oxygen in a closed area. Always make sure your tanks are tightly closed. Make sure whereever you store your tanks has adequate ventilation all the time. When possible, open the doors to storage areas from the outside or go directly and promptly to the inside latch, then open the door immediately.
When having your mobile A/C system professionally serviced, insist on proper repair procedures and quality replacement parts. Insist on recovery and recycling so that refrigerant can be reused and not released into the atmosphere.
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The 32nd annual Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide Convention and Trade Show will take place January 18-20, 2012 at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV.