Whether you run an HVAC business or are a field tech yourself, technician safety must be a central focus in your day-to-day operations to avoid dangerous and costly HVAC accidents.
Danger lurks in some of the most unsuspecting places, and industry professionals should not only adhere to best HVAC servicing procedures, but stay vigilant for common hazards as well. That’s why we’ve identified the eight biggest HVAC safety hazards and collected the best HVAC safety standards all in one place.
To prevent common HVAC accidents, HVAC technicians should protect themselves from:
Electrical HVAC safety hazards
Inadequate equipment inventory
We’ll run through those HVAC safety hazards one by one. » Want to grow your HVAC business? Click here to get a demo.
1. Electrical Hazards
HVAC work requires handling electrical wiring. When on a job, techs must de-energize all equipment before performing routine inspections, tests, repairs, and other servicing procedures.
Avoid electrical accidents with these HVAC safety tips:
Turn off power to the corresponding circuit in the breaker panel.
Use proper lockout and tag procedures to ensure no one tries to turn on the power while you are working.
Before performing the work, test the circuit with a meter that is properly rated for the type of circuit you’re testing to determine if it’s still energized.
2. Chemical Exposure
One of the main HVAC accidents the industry sees is exposure to dangerous chemicals.
Technicians work with a variety of chemicals that can cause serious burns, such as refrigerants, cleaning liquids, solvents, and gases. Even though a lot of refrigerants are classified as safe by the manufacturers, the chemicals’ toxicity is subject to increase when exposed to heat—ultimately posing as a health hazard to technicians. Proper HVAC safety training is crucial before working with these chemicals. Follow these HVAC servicing procedures to stay safe.
When handling this type of hazard, exercise caution and always gear up with reliable protective personal equipment (PPE), including safety glasses, protective footwear, and HVAC work gloves.
A type of pressurized gas cylinder commonly found in the back of a technician’s truck is R-410A refrigerant. When these types of gas cylinders are exposed to extreme summer temperatures, one bump on the road can send them shooting off like a rocket. For proper handling and storage, the American Welding Society (AWS) recommends the following:
Secure cylinders upright with a chain or strap in a proper cylinder cart.
Ensure valves are completely closed and any protection devices are secured.
Keep cylinders in a ventilated location free from excessive heat and electrical circuits.
Ensure safety measures, such as caps or guards, are securely installed.
Use a cart or hand truck. Do NOT drag or roll cylinders.
3. Inadequate Equipment Inventory
Equipment inventory might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about HVAC accidents, but it makes a difference. Before departing for your scheduled route, make sure the tools in your van or truck are ready for work. By ensuring the condition of your tools isn’t compromised, you can arrive at the homeowner’s residence confident you have the properly functioning tools needed to complete the job.
Additionally, determining the type of tools you will be using for the next job makes it easy to hit the ground running upon arrival. It’s not just about staying organized with your equipment inventory; it actually prevents you from improvising when you’re in the midst of a job. The best tactic for safety is prevention and proper HVAC servicing procedures. Practice a routine of prevention and awareness before you even depart for a job.
4. Respiratory HVAC Safety Hazards
The most common health risks HVAC technicians are exposed to are respiratory related. Many homes contain dirty air filters that act as Petri dishes for mold, bacteria, and fungus. A faulty pilot light and heat exchangers leaking on the furnace can result in carbon monoxide poisoning.
Wear an industrial-grade face mask to prevent inhaling these lingering dangers in close proximity and for extended periods of time. Sometimes, the job requires a higher-grade mask, such as a cartridge-style mask or even a self-contained breathing mask—especially if the job is in a contaminated and confined space. Learn more about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) respiratory safety standards.
5. Ladder Liability
According to a CDC report, within the construction industry more than 80 percent of fall injuries treated in emergency rooms involve ladders. No one wants to spend more time outside than necessary on a sweltering summer afternoon. But by taking a few extra steps to adequately secure your ladder, you prevent one of the most common instances of occupational fatalities and injuries.
When engaging in ladder work:
Always maintain three-point contact. Either both feet with at least one hand or both hands with at least one foot on the ladder at all times.
Place the base of the ladder a quarter of its working length from the dwelling to achieve the safest angle
Make sure the extension or straight ladder extends at least 3 feet above the point of support.
Ensure all locks are properly engaged on an extension ladder.
For more electrical safety tips, visit the National Fire Protection Association’s National Electric Code and Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces.
6. Dangerous Driving
All of your tools can be pristine and properly stored. You can be fully outfitted with all of the PPE you can manage to put on. You can climb a ladder safely and follow every precautionary step when dealing with electrical or chemical hazards. But none of that matters if you never make it to the job.
Daily driving is a mundane reality for virtually all HVAC technicians. But driving with care not only reflects positively on your company (because let’s face it—that van is really just a moving billboard), but it saves lives.
To stay safe on the road:
Schedule enough time between jobs, so you are not rushing to get there on time.
Always communicate with your dispatcher if your schedule is not feasible for your driving route.
7. Unprofessional Conduct
It’s an act of trust when a homeowner invites a technician into their home, and nothing screams unprofessional like an untrained technician. An untrained technician easily disrupts a homeowner’s sense of security. As a business owner, make sure all of your technicians receive HVAC safety training to recognize hazards and establish proper protocols to ensure the safety of both technicians and customers.
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8. Extreme Weather Conditions
HVAC technicians frequently work outside in extreme heat or cold. This leaves them at risk for fatigue, dehydration, heat stroke, hypothermia, and frostbite. As an HVAC tech, know your limits, wear the proper clothing, hydrate, and take breaks as needed to avoid these conditions. If techs don’t take care of themselves and their coworkers, they can’t serve customers properly. A technician’s health is worth the time.
9. Technician & Client Health
Typically, HVAC technicians enter homes and touch various surfaces like the thermostats and possibly other things around the house, depending on the level of work required. While there were fewer health risks associated with transmission before COVID - 19, the ongoing pandemic has cautioned us to take additional steps to ensure the health and safety of the technicians and the customers. Simple safety strategies can help mitigate these risks.
While scheduling a visit, business owners should confirm with the client and the technician about any possible exposure to COVID -19. Ideally, all transactions that can be completed virtually (like receipts and payments) should be done in advance to limit contact. For the actual visit, all employees should wear a properly fitted mask and request the client to do the same if they are at home. Further, technicians should carry disinfectants for their hands and equipment and maintain a 6 feet distance, if the client cannot leave the premises.
After completion of the job, all employees should wash their hands as mandated by COVID regulations, or at least sanitize them until they have the option to do so. Understandably, any employee showing symptoms or facing health concerns should not be working. In this new reality, following cautionary steps can ensure that the technicians, as well as the customers, are fully protected and prepared.
HVAC Safety Standards
To avoid these and other HVAC accidents, always wear PPE. The Refrigeration School, Inc. recommends the following PPE:
Steel-toed work boots
Thick HVAC work gloves
Also, be sure to evaluate each worksite for common HVAC safety hazards. You can often remedy slippery surfaces, fall dangers, and electrical risks before beginning the job.
If you are a technician, make your personal safety a priority when out in the field. Don’t take shortcuts. And if you notice any gaps in your safety knowledge or training, speak to your supervisor to find an effective solution. HVAC safety training should be a routine practice—it’s never too late to start.
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