Refrigerant handling: driving up standards


18 April 2023

Graeme Fox, chair of the refrigerant working group at European contractors’ association AREA and Head of Technical at BESA, gives an update on a global programme to improve competency and safety when handling refrigerants.

The Refrigerant Driving Licence (RDL) is a global qualification programme for the safe handling of refrigerants that has been developed and backed by the global heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration industry. It requires core competencies and skills for the sound management and safe handling of refrigerants by the RACHP installation and servicing workforce. 

With the impending wider roll-out of alternative refrigerants to HFCs which will inevitably include varying levels of flammability and/or toxicity, bringing with them safety concerns where used by non-qualified or non-competent people, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) brought together the expertise of AREA and the AHRI (the Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute of North America) to spearhead a global consortium called the RDL Advisory Committee.

The aim is to create and deliver a training and certification programme which ensures personnel handling these refrigerants can do so safely and in an environmentally friendly manner, with a particular focus on helping the developing countries of the world transition safely towards lowering their reliance on high GWP substances.

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During the four-year pilot stage of the RDL, which included train the trainer sessions in seven nations, a number of issues became apparent in developing a global licencing scheme. This included issues with personnel selected for testing and the poor results on theoretical testing, language barriers, the consideration of governmental policy drivers and incentives to motivate technicians to seek RDL qualification, and the cost of administration for RDL program. The Advisory Committee met recently  in Atlanta and agreed the following actions:

  • A government mandate for technician certification is the best way to motivate technicians to seek the RDL certification.
  • The RDL programme could be used by developing country governments as a turnkey package if they do not yet have a certification programme established to enable them to meet their Kigali Amendment responsibilities under their Montreal Protocol KIPs (Kigali Implementation Plans).
  • The RDL is targeted for technicians who have experience in the sector but who require independent competence assessment and certification.

Responsibilities for each of the RDL project partners over the next few months will be:

AHRI will be mostly focused on the theoretical examination of technicians. AHRI is responsible for overseeing the finalization and maintenance of the job-task analysis, working with North American Technician Excellence (NATE) to develop and administer an online testing platform, and translating the theoretical exam into French and Spanish. AHRI will also host the RDL training materials online so they can be accessed by technicians. AHRI will also send a list of technicians who pass the theoretical exam to UN Environment and AREA so they may attempt the practical assessment.

AREA will administer the RDL practical exam. The exam will be an in-person assessment by local assessors, but it will also be remotely proctored by an AREA expert. AREA will also verify beforehand that the facility and its equipment are suitable. After the practical exam, AREA will notify AHRI of which technicians passed the practical.

UNEP responsibilities in the RDL include promoting RDL, acting as the broker with developing countries to attract RDL customers, and maintaining the training materials. UNEP will contract AHRI to administer the theoretical (online) exam and AREA to implement the RDL practical exam.

The next steps to launch the project globally will be:

  • Final field testing of the RDL online platform in Grenada and the Maldives.
  • Launch and promotion of the RDL will be concluded alongside the open-ended working group meeting of the Montreal Protocol meetings, which will be held on 3-7 July 2023, in Bangkok, Thailand.