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OSHA on HVACR Safety

While out in the field, HVACR professionals face a variety of safety risks that they must be aware of and manage in their day-to-day work lives.

2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), signed into existence by President Richard Nixon. We’ve recently reviewed OSHA guidelines and its relevance to heating, air conditioning, ventilation and refrigeration (HVACR) professionals.

Risks for HVAC Techs

OSHA, in addition to providing guidelines for worker safety, also helps outline the kind of risks that an employee might be exposed to in the workplace. For HVAC workers, this includes:

  • Handing refrigerants
  • Operating on rooftops
  • Dealing with wiring and electricity
  • Working in confined spaces

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does point out some of the most common risk factors for HVAC technicians. How does OSHA protect workers in the HVAC field?

Refrigerant Safety

OSHA sources report the primary safety concern when working with refrigerants is oxygen deprivation. If inhaled in surplus, refrigerants will replace the oxygen in the lungs. They are difficult to expel from the lungs because they are heavier than air, leading to unconsciousness and eventually death. OSHA regulations detail how to use these refrigerants safely, how to store them, and how to react if there is refrigerant exposure on a job site.

Preventing Falls

Falls are among the most common causes of on-the-job deaths, especially in construction-related industries. It is so common that it is included as part of OSHA’s “Fatal Four.” HVAC workers who find themselves operating on roofs are at risk of adding to those statistics. According to OSHA, fall arrest equipment is essential for anyone working on a particular grade of roof or from above a certain height, which ranges from four to eight feet, depending on the industry.

Confined Spaces

Working in confined spaces is part of the job for an HVAC professional, especially when they have to install wiring and ductwork in attics, basements and crawl spaces. In addition to the challenge of working in these small spaces, there is an increased risk of carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) exposure if the space does not have adequate ventilation.

According to the CDC, CO poisoning is directly responsible for 400 deaths and more than 20,000 emergency room visits per year. OSHA’s rules for working in these confined spaces include specifications to prevent CO and CO2 poisoning.

Electrical Safety

Installing new HVAC units or repairing existing ones means working with electrical systems. Both present different risks, but the safety protocols for each are the same.

They may include steps like shutting off the power to the HVAC system at the building’s main breaker to testing wires to determine if any current remains or even proving proper insulation and grounding in the event of an arc or shock. Electricity-related accidents might not be common enough to make it into the ‘Fatal Four,’ but they are still a hazard that OSHA addresses for HVAC techs.

Staying Safe on HVAC Job Sites

As previously mentioned, these four are, by no means, an exhaustive list. Other hazards, such as fire safety, blood-borne pathogens, and machinery guarding standards could all apply to HVAC professionals under different circumstances. The latter is a safety standard that is common for HVAC technicians working on large construction sites.

OSHA has been around for five decades as of 2021 and has evolved into the best foundational tool for keeping HVAC pros and a wide range of other workers safe on job sites. As new techniques and technologies emerge, OSHA regulations continue to evolve, but its primary goal, workplace safety, will remain the same as in 1971 when it first went into effect.

Visit osha.gov to review their safety standards, as they pertain to the HVAC industry, in whole.