A company out of Singapore was fined $150,000 as a direct result of a hydrocarbon refrigerant explosion that killed one worker and injured two others. The event happened back in 2012 at a factory where three workers were tasked with converting a unit away from the Hydrocarbon refrigerant and over to a safer, less flammable, refrigerant.
Typically when evacuating refrigerant a recovery cylinder is used to prevent the refrigerant from escaping into the air as well as allowing reuse or recycling of the old refrigerant. I’m not sure why, but the workers in this case did not use a recovery cylinder but instead vented the entire refrigerant into the confined utility room that they were in. The only place for the refrigerant to escape too was a small open window. They even had the door to the utility room closed.
Hydrocarbon refrigerant gas is denser than air and thusly will settle on the ground floor of a room. In this case the only way for the refrigerant to escape was the open window that sat higher than ground floor. At one point during the job one of the workers, Abadul Jaynal Sikder, switched on a shop vacuum to do a clean up of the site before they wrapped things up.
The switching on of the vacuum cleaner caused a spark, like it always does. The spark ignited the refrigerant that was pooled on the ground and caused a flash of fire to fill the room. His two colleagues escaped through the open window while Abadul Sikder left through the main door. All three technicians suffered severe burns and four days after the incident Mr. Sikder passed away.
Their company was fined for inadequate training of their technicians as well as not providing their techs with the safety data sheet of the particular hydrocarbon refrigerant that they were working with. Hydrocarbons are in the process of being phased out across Singapore and by the end of 2016 it is predicted that most units will be using alternative refrigerants such ash HFCs or HFOs.
Their seems to be a constant battle waging between the usage of HFCs, HFOs, and natural refrigerants. At this point it is anyone’s guess as to who will come out on top.