Federal fines for ozone breaches

Posted on : Friday, 22 October 2021

The Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment has recently taken action against two companies for breaches of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 (the Act).  

 

The first, in Queensland, was penalised for unlicensed work by a technician on a fire suppression system that contained a scheduled extinguishing substance. 

 

This work resulted in the discharge of 247 kg of the synthetic greenhouse gas HFC-227ea (FM-200) into the atmosphere, which is the equivalent of over 795 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. 

 

Although the company had an approved risk management plan, as required by law, it failed to follow it, and was issued infringement notices of:  

 

  • $13,320 for engaging in conduct that led to the substance being released; and
  • $444 for failing to put into effect a risk management plan.  

 

The technician responsible for the discharge was fined $444 for handling the extinguishing agent without a licence. 

 

The second company, located in Victoria, was fined for importing heat pumps that contained a potent synthetic greenhouse gas - hydrofluorocarbon R410a. 

 

It is illegal to bring equipment containing these gases into the country without holding an import licence. 

 

The company was issued a $13,320 infringement notice for the breach - contraventions of the Act can result in civil penalties of anywhere up to $2.22 million.  

 

Executive Officer of the Fire Protection Industry (ODS & SGG) Board (FPIB), Mr Paul Hodgson, said these infringement notices should serve as a timely reminder:  

 

"Non-compliance with the ozone legislation will not be tolerated.  We hope these penalties serve as a deterrent to others who may be considering ignoring the rules," he said.  

 

"All companies working with these scheduled substances must ensure that they have approved risk management plans in place and that they and their workers hold the relevant licences.  

 

"The FPIB will actively monitor compliance in the fire protection industry to minimise emissions of scheduled extinguishing substances and to protect the environment," he said.  

 

 

Check your permits

 

The FPIB has advised people to be diligent when contracting fire protection companies. 

 

Any fire technician handling extinguishing agents listed in Schedule 1 of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 must hold a valid extinguishing agent handling licence (EAHL) under Australian law. 

 

Gaseous fire suppression systems using scheduled agents are widely distributed in commercial and industrial buildings across Australia to protect facilities such as:  

 

  • data centres;
  • electrical switch and battery rooms;
  • telecommunications facilities;
  • medical apparatus rooms in hospitals;
  • laboratories; and
  • libraries and archives. 

 

These systems need to be maintained regularly and technicians working on these systems should clearly record all activity, and include their licence numbers, so that they can demonstrate compliance under the Act.  

 

It is crucial that facility managers verify that any technicians they use hold the correct licence and qualifications if they are working on the installation, testing, maintenance, or decommissioning of a fixed gaseous suppression system containing or connected to such agents.  

 

Using unlicensed technicians could lead to:  

 

  • the discharge of scheduled extinguishing agent, releasing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere which can contribute to global warming and the depletion of the Earth's ozone layer;
  • significant disruption to business operations, and hefty replacement costs;
  • the potential refusal by insurance companies to accept any claim for damages. 

 

It's easy to avoid this - a call to the FPIB on (03) 8892-3183 will confirm in a matter of minutes whether your contractor holds an EAHL under the Fire Protection Industry Permit Scheme. 

 

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The Fire Protection Industry (ODS & SGG) Board administers the Fire Protection Industry Permit Scheme for the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Program on behalf of the Australian Government.