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F-Gas: UK prepares for mandatory skills assessment

THE European Commission has now finalised its detailed requirements for the training and certification of engineers working on stationary refrigeration and air conditioning equipment under the European Fluorinated Gases Regulation - known as the F-Gas Regulation.
While most UK engineers have been assessed in refrigerant handling to the City and Guilds 2078 or CITB standard during the past 15 years, the new F-Gas standard will require a much more thorough and wide ranging examination.

It will include a range of observed practical assessments and a multiple choice examination which will test the knowledge of underpinning principles.

'This is the first time an assessment specification has been written into a Regulation on refrigerant handling,' comments John Ellis, past president of the IOR and past chairman of ACRIB, the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Industry Board. 'There is no doubt it will be tough to comply with but it would have been a lot worse without the work of ACRIB and DEFRA negotiating at a European level.'

Since the commission finalised the requirements in December 2007, industry representatives through ACRIB have been working with existing awarding bodies (City and Guilds and CITB) to come up with a top-up qualification for those who already have refrigerant handling or S/NVQ qualifications. The new F-Gas qualification is still under development and consultation, and will be presented to UK government at the end of January.

Given that the existing workforce of up to 40,000 engineers will need to take all or part of the new assessment, one of the key briefs was for this to be as efficient as possible in terms of the time taken. It is expected it will take approximately four hours for each candidate to be assessed by a qualified assessor.

The level of training needed to get technicians up to the standard necessary to pass the assessments will depend on the prior qualifications, experience and knowledge of the individual. It is likely that this could be up to four days however, because much of the assessment is theoretical and covers principles of refrigeration required to assess performance of systems and their energy efficiency.

Jane Gartshore, president of the IOR, welcomed the work ACRIB is doing. She said: 'We should not forget that while there will be a cost to industry, the F-Gas training will also improve standards of competence throughout the workforce'.

Training providers and colleges should be able to register to deliver the new qualifications early in the spring with the first assessments going ahead in early July, when the requirements for F-Gas Personnel Certification were due to come in. However, with the current limited provision of training and the significant changes and challenges that the new F-Gas qualifications will present, it is expected it will take some years to get the whole of the UK workforce re-certified.

Only those who have taken the new F-Gas assessment will be recognised as competent throughout the whole of Europe, so in order to work with F -Gas refrigerants, the sooner the new certificate is obtained the better.

The commission requires that all technicians should have obtained this new qualification by January 2009. However the UK government will be consulting in the early summer on whether to allow a further three years (up to July 2011) for existing personnel to obtain the new qualification.

ACRIB is pressing to ensure the UK is granted an extension of the full three years to complete certifications. In the meantime, of course, the existing certificates C&G 2078 or CITB equivalent continue to be the existing national legal requirement for both F-Gas and ODS refrigerant handling. The ACRIB voluntary register provides proof of competence through a register and card scheme.

These requirements will be enforced by a statutory instrument expected to be published early this year which will lay down penalties for infringement. A programme of enforcement is currently being prepared by government based on an awareness campaign targeting the key business sectors responsible for emissions of F-Gases and gaining high level commitment to meeting the requirements of the regulation from these businesses.

The commission also recently agreed the principles for a company registration scheme. Companies employing certified personnel will need to be registered but, again, the deadline may be extended until July 2011. If so, companies will need an interim certificate by July 2009.

Government will be consulting on possible arrangements for the issuing of these interim company certificates and the length of the transitional period.

Guidance on the education and training requirements and all other aspects of the regulation including the full text of the regulations is available from ACRIB and its member organisations at

www.acrib.org.uk
1 February 2008

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