Generally speaking, it’s not a good thing when someone approaches you wearing a mask and holding a sharp object. But that’s exactly the situation I found myself in recently. And it was clear that this person was going to cause me pain and then take my money.  But I stayed calm by thinking about refrigeration.  And sure enough, very soon my time in the dentist’s chair was over.

What’s the connection between dentistry and refrigeration? Well, the dental hygienist who was cleaning my teeth was dressed up in near-hazmat attire. She had on gloves on her hands, goggles over her eyes, and a mask covering her mouth. The same went for the dentist when he came in to look me over after the hygienist was done. Let’s compare that to when I was a kid. I’d go to the dentist, and he would walk in, pry open my mouth, and start poking around. No mask, no goggles, no gloves. I am assuming he at least washed his hands first, but to be totally honest I really don’t even remember that for sure.

So how did we get from that to where we are now, with all the protective gear? If I’m remembering correctly, it was fear of AIDS.  The AIDS epidemic in the 1980s had dentists and their staffs eager to protect themselves from possible contamination through contact with patients’ saliva or blood. So, the birth of gloves, goggles, and masks in dentists’ offices across the country. And today, dentists, hygienists, and patients don’t even think twice about it.

I think we will be in for much the same scenario when it comes to using the refrigerants that are replacing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). We all know that some of the new options are highly flammable, some are mildly flammable, and some operate at very high pressures. But our industry is filled with smart people who know the hazards, and will train and adapt.

Will there be some new precautions to keep technicians safe? Sure, but just like the dental hygienists, the technicians will get used to them and it will become second nature. Remember when people were worried about working on R-410A systems because of the higher pressures? Now it’s just routine.

Massive refrigerant changes aren’t easy, but this industry is nothing if not supremely flexible and adaptable. It has been proven time and time again, and I think we can all be confident that it will be the case again. But, having said that, any time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy want to stop testing that adaptability will be fine.

Let us know how you feel about the new refrigerants and how you plan to prepare your people for them. And in the meantime, don’t forget to brush and floss.