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. Danger can lie in some of the most unsuspecting places and industry professionals must not only adhere to best practices but stay vigilant for common hazards as well. That’s why we’ve identified the seven biggest HVAC hazards and collected the best HVAC safety tips all in one place.
1. Electrical Hazards
As an HVAC technician, you are required to handle electrical wiring. When on a job, it’s critical to de-energize all equipment before performing routine inspections, tests, repairs, and other servicing procedures.
Here are some key ways to avoid electrical accidents:
- Start by turning off the power to the corresponding circuit in the breaker panel. This way, there will be no electricity flowing through the HVAC system.
- Make sure to 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 or not.
While handling any part of the HVAC system, always wear personal protective equipment (PPE)—especially HVAC work gloves—to prevent any type of electrical shock or refrigeration burns. For more electrical safety tips, visit the National Fire Protection Association’s National Electric Code and Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces.
2. Chemical Exposure
One of the main hazards of the HVAC profession is exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals. Technicians work with a variety of chemicals such as refrigerants, cleaning liquids, solvents, and gases that can cause serious burns. 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.
- When handling this type of hazard, exercise caution and always gear up with reliable PPE, including safety glasses and protective footwear.
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 it shooting off like a rocket.
For proper handling and storing, the American Welding Society (AWS) recommends to:
- 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 may not be the first thing that comes in mind when you think about occupational hazards. 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 is not comprised, you can arrive at the homeowner’s residence confident that 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 will make 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, so practice a routine of prevention and awareness before you even depart for a job.
4. Respiratory Risks
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. If a homeowner has a faulty pilot light and heat exchangers leaking on the furnace, this may 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
On a sweltering summer afternoon, the last thing you want to do is spend more time outside than necessary. But by taking a few extra steps to make sure your ladder is secure, you can prevent one of the most common instances of occupational fatalities and injuries.
When engaging in ladder work:
- Always maintain 3-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.
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 will save 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 can easily disrupt a homeowner’s sense of security. As a business owner, make sure all of your technicians are professionally trained to recognize hazards and establish proper protocols to ensure the safety of both technicians and customers.
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. Safety training should be a routine practice—it’s never too late to start.
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