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Friday, July 31, 2020

Online air conditioning sales put lives in danger

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) has condemned online retailers for “playing fast and loose with public safety” by selling specialised air conditioning equipment to unregistered installers and end users.

BESA, which runs the UK’s main F-Gas certification body REFCOM, says products containing flammable refrigerant gases were being bought by DIYers and unqualified installers.

Appliances Direct was specifically named for posting irresponsible messaging alongside one of the products for sale on its website after concerns raised by REFCOM members. It claimed that the product, which contains R290 (propane), “does not require installation by an F-Gas registered engineer or specialist equipment for typical installation – everything you need is supplied”.

While selling these products online is not illegal, BESA is urging all retailers to take responsibility by only selling to properly qualified and registered installers.

“This is just one of a number of instances where online retailers are undermining enforcement of the regulations by selling directly to end users and non-registered companies and operators,” said the Association’s head of technical Graeme Fox. “Dodgy operators, who undercut properly certified engineers, get their products online – so the best way to control them is to cut off their supplies at source.” 

Amateur

“Selling air conditioning products containing propane to all and sundry online is an accident waiting to happen,” said Mr Fox. “In many amateur installations, connecting nuts are not properly tightened and air in the pipes is not removed because the installer lacks the tools and knowledge to carry out work safely,” he explained.

“The refrigerant used in this product is similar to the gas used to fire up barbeques. If it leaks, it will create a potentially explosive atmosphere and put lives at risk. It is just like taking a bottle of camping gas into your living room and opening a valve.”   

BESA urged online sellers like Appliances Direct to take responsibility instead of leaving it to the authorities to try and track down dangerous installations once the public was already in danger.

“What they are doing is not illegal, but it is clearly dangerous,” argued Mr Fox. “It is only a matter of time before these online retailers are legally prevented from doing this because the process to improve the F-Gas regulations will start later this year.”

Mr Fox pointed to Dame Judith Hackitt’s post-Grenfell inquiry into fire and building safety, where she advised the construction industry not to wait for legislation to be passed before implementing the necessary changes.

“Websites like Appliances Direct should want to be part of the solution – not part of the problem,” he said. “Why wait for regulatory change or a fire that kills people before putting a stop to this dangerous practice? If they fail to take responsibility now, eventually they will be held accountable.”

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