As the old saying goes, ‘better safe than sorry; it can never be any more accurate for HVAC technicians. The work of a technician requires a lot of vigilance – they face a lot of potential hazards in their line of work. I know most of us are thinking about having to climb tall buildings to repair or replace conditioning units. Well, that could be one hazard, but it’s not only about where you work, but also how you work, and the pieces of equipment you interact with.
If you’ve been in the industry for some time, you understand that danger could be lurking anywhere. Therefore, there’s the need to highlight some of the hazards you might face in your day in day out activities and take the necessary steps to ensure that you’re always safe.
Here are some of the common hazards you’re probably going to face.
As a commercial HVAC technician, you’re probably going to find yourself in some pretty high environments. It doesn’t mean that you have to be on top of a skyscraper for you to be careful. No. It could be on a ladder or a rooftop accessing vents and ductwork in some attic space or ceiling. The chances of falling whenever you’re working in a raised area are high and could harm your body.
Always make sure that the location of your ladder and scaffolding is safe and sturdy. You could also use a spotter whenever the area is exceptionally high. A safety harness can also come in handy in raised environments.
You can’t separate HVAC work with electrical wiring and equipment…they go hand in hand. Interacting with electricity calls for a lot of vigilance – it only takes one wrong turn, and you’re electrocuted! It is hard to tell if a wire is live or not…never handle carelessly exposed and unattended wires.
When handling electricity, always have your protective gloves and never leave behind your tester (you never know when you need to test wire charges). If you’re not sure, go ahead a shut off the power to the entire area before starting your work.
New regulations require additional testing before working on any energized equipment. One example is the requirement for correct proving of testers before measuring. This can be as simple as checking the power of a known source, but can also be accomplished using a proving unit.
Lockout and tagout procedures are also very important, especially since kitchens are often staffed with people who don't understand the risks you face and may inadvertently turn on the equipment you are working on. Make sure you always carry a lockout/tagout kit, and work according to a checklist.
There are certain times during the year when technician services are needed more than ever (especially during the dog days of summer). During these times, you are forced to hop from one job to another, work overtime, and in hot conditions. When you’re clocking over 60 hours in a physically demanding field, strain and exhaustion are likely to kick in.
Fatigue is a serious enemy and can cause you to lose concentration and make careless mistakes (talk of poor services!). When these mistakes happen not only puts you at risk but also puts your clients at potential risks. When you find yourself falling asleep on the wheel or experiencing some severe dehydration, you’re most likely fatigued.
Make sure you take breaks when needed, stay hydrated, maintain a healthy eating habit (don’t skip meals), and take some time to rest even if it means turning down offers (it could be a day off from a hectic week). Also, plan your work well to ensure that you have some time to breathe.
Another place to keep a close eye on fatigue is when driving; especially after a long day, your drive back home or the office can be a dangerous one if you are tired. Take breaks, stay hydrated. If your vehicle is equipped with remote start, consider cooling it down before making the drive. All these new technical features can be used to help you!
As a technician, you literally have to play with fire. For instance, soldering is a common practice during repairs and installation. At times, you will need your handy torch to cut metals like a hot knife through butter (and have your bad a$$ moment). The bottom line is that opportunities to burn yourself severely or mildly are going to be there. Well, you can’t avoid naked flames, but you can prevent burns.
Always ensure that any equipment is cool before working on it. If the work dictates that you handle your equipment while hot, make sure you have the proper protection – heat-resistant gloves can be the best bet here. In addition, always wear long-sleeved clothing to protect your arms if you accidentally come into contact with hot objects.
Ensure you always have a fire extinguisher available, especially when working with your torch or any situation that requires flammable items, like refilling certain refrigerants.
Chemical Exposure and Respiratory Hazards
Finally, a technician’s work entails working with different chemicals such as refrigerants, gases, solvents, and cleaning liquids. These chemicals can cause some bodily harm if they are not handled with care. Most manufacturers classify their chemicals as safe, but their toxicity levels could rise when exposed to extreme conditions such as heat.
Some houses also have dirty air filters, which could be harboring bacteria, mold, and fungus. Heat exchangers leaks and faulty pilot lights could cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Always wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including industrial-grade safety masks, protective footwear, HVAC work gloves, and safety glasses. Practice chemical safety – store chemicals in their original containers, never mix them and always follow instructions and signage
Also, don't forget that as of the date of publishing, COVID-19 is still a threat, so keep masking up when needed, especially when around large crowds.