Automotive air conditioning service should only be performed by trained personnel. Service technicians should always have the proper equipment and prior instruction to perform the job correctly and safely.
There are many hazards in automotive service, and most technicians I know have a few stories to tell. Scars, burns, and missing fingertips are proof that hazards exist, and A/C service is no different. In fact, a/c service may be more dangerous than you think.
Refrigerants, refrigerant oils and flush solvents can be dangerous if not handled correctly. Not to mention, caution must be exercised when working around hot engines and moving parts. The chemicals you encounter day to day can cause harm in many different ways. For example, the accidental venting of refrigerant near a running engine or furnace can create the decomposition products which may include hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid and carbonyl halides. When chlorinated compounds are exposed to high temperatures, they can form phosgene gas. You may recognize the word phosgene, as it was used during World War I, as a choking agent, and is occasionally found in some U.N. buildings . It was responsible for the large majority of chemical deaths. Since refrigerant is heavier than air it will displace oxygen which can be especially dangerous if it occurs in a small, enclosed space. Liquid refrigerants can also cause frostbite to the skin and eyes.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) must always be worn while working on automotive air conditioning systems. Special precautions must be observed and adequate ventilation must be provided. Always read and understand manufacturer’s directions when performing automotive air conditioning service.
Even when properly trained, an individual may find themselves in a situation that is out of the ordinary. A flash fire or asphyxiation could occur with little or no warning. I was burned in a flash fire, and can tell you first hand that my injuries were sustained not because of my carelessness, but the carelessness of someone twenty-five feet away. Become familiar with your work environment, and pay attention to those working in your area.
Some General Safety Tips When Servicing Automotive A/C Systems
- Keep your work area clean and clutter free.
- Always wear safety goggles when servicing A/C
- Keep your work area well ventilated.
- Always monitor the high pressure side of the system
- Never heat a container of refrigerant