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AIRAH research into HVAC industry uncovers biggest safety risk

AIRAH’s Safety in the HVAC&R Industry report touches on something important: access to rooftop plant is often forgotten at the design stage and difficult to fix later. Even so, solutions are at hand, as some of the Australia’s buildings put things right decades after their original construction with innovative retrofits.

As AIRAH executive manager of government relations and technical services Phil Wilkinson said, “We found the increased safety risks and higher ongoing costs associated with poor access to HVAC&R plant and equipment are ‘designed in’ to systems from day one.”

Do you need to review your HVAC and roof-mounted plant access? Click here for a handy checklist to identify gaps that need action.

“There is a market failure at play in many scenarios. Those who would have to pay for the additional capital costs to provide safe access during the construction are different from those who will pay for the increased ongoing costs caused by the inadequate access.

Sadly, there is no market incentive for the builder to invest in access solutions that will save the owner or operator money in the longer term, and a cost transfer occurs.”

Savvy building maintenance and facility managers are refusing to be daunted by the challenge, says the managing director height safety firm, Workplace Access & Safety, Carl Sachs.

“Installing fall protection equipment on existing buildings presents more challenges than incorporating it into the build but clever design means retrofits can be managed well with minimal disruption,” he said.

In a recent Brisbane CBD refurbishment by Hutchinson Builders, Mr Sachs says Workplace Access & Safety managed to fit 70m2 of aluminium platforms around four large cooling towers in 10 days and took all the waste away in two wheelie bins.

Severely constrained by space, the four large cooling towers on the roof of this 22-storey Brisbane CBD building would normally be too difficult or too expensive to routinely service. Instead, Workplace Access & Safety’s innovative custom-designed cooling tower platforms allow FMs to grant access for maintenance by HVAC technicians without the burden of administrative controls, rescue plans, and removed the increased risk associated with ladders and harness-based height safety systems.

A risk assessment was performed to identify the footprint of both the FM’s and HVAC technicians while monitoring and maintaining the cooling towers.

Do you need to review your HVAC and roof-mounted plant access? Click here for a handy checklist to identify gaps that need action.

Using the specific working at heights hierarchy of control as guidance for selecting access solutions, designers were able to minimise the risks of injury by selecting passive controls.

HVAC technicians without any specialised working at height qualifications can simply walk to the job, even while carrying tools. Access is fast, efficient and very low risk.

Installation of the 70-square-metre platforms took just 10 days. The secret was a great deal of modular prefabrication, which reduced time spent on site by 70 to 80 per cent. The result: less crane time, reduced OHS risk and a smaller footprint for the works.

“Modular prefabrication means even large installations are workable because almost all of the work is done off-site,” Mr Sachs said.

“The materials can be moved onto site in small sections with a couple of guys in a normal lift rather than an expensive crane. It’s just a case of fitting it all together.”

Do you have HVAC that is difficult to access? Call 1300 552 984 to discuss how your building could have a fall protection system retrofitted for safe, efficient HVAC maintenance access.


Click here to read AIRAH’s Safety in the HVAC&R Industry report