For those in the HVAC industry, career potential is huge. Every building and home in the country has a heating and cooling unit of some sort, and they will all need to be serviced eventually; meaning, there’s always demand for the services an HVAC tech offers. With that in mind, the industry does pose some risks, and contractors are at the heart of those risks. Here are the top five threats that HVAC contractors need to be aware of:
FATIGUE RELATED MISTAKES PUT EVERYONE AT RISK
HVAC contractors are notoriously overworked. When someone is clocking 60-plus hours in a physically demanding field, exhaustion is the logical conclusion. When a contractor is tired, he is going to make mistakes, and those mistakes could put customers, not to mention the contractor himself, in danger. Failure to properly connect wiring, for example, or allowing a leak that would let carbon monoxide into the home is unacceptable, yet entirely possible when a contractor is fatigued. Not only that, but if a tech is driving from one job to the next and falls asleep at the wheel, everyone on the road is at risk. Avoiding fatigue-related errors and accidents is simple: HVAC contractors must have a normal work schedule, and turn down orders when they need rest. Companies that employ HVAC technicians need to schedule their team members in a reasonable manner.
ELECTROCUTION THREATS COME FROM WIRING AND EQUIPMENT
Working with HVAC equipment means working with electricity and wiring, which puts the contractor at risk for electrocution. Electrocution can cause burns, internal injuries, or even death. It also happens instantaneously, with no warning, so the contractor needs to understand the way the job creates this risk in order to avoid it. To limit electrocution danger, contractors need to be vigilant about turning off the power at the circuit box to the area of the building where they will be working. Also, contractors need to test wires before touching them to determine if they are still live, because live wires are not always visible to the naked eye.
EXPOSURE TO TOXIC ASBESTOS IS POSSIBLE
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asbestos is a mineral fiber found in rock and soil that is heat resistant. This heat resistance made it a popular product to use as insulation and as a fire retardant. It can be found in vinyl floor tiles, shingles, textured paint, and insulation products that contain vermiculite. Because HVAC contractors are working with the ductwork in a property and sometimes inspecting insulation to find areas where draft is a possibility, these professionals can be exposed to insulation that contains asbestos. Exposure to asbestos increases individuals’ chances of developing lung disease, including lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. To prevent these outcomes, avoid prolonged exposure to asbestos, and use respirators as recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
FALLING FROM HEIGHTS IS A HIGHER RISK THAN YOU MIGHT THINK
While residential HVAC equipment tends to be inside basements or in backyards, commercial HVAC equipment is often located on roofs, with ductwork high in ceilings. Also, homeowners may have vents and ductwork on roofs or in attics. Any time an HVAC contractor is high off the ground, he could fall. To avoid this danger, only use safe, sturdy ladders or scaffolding, and insist on safety harnesses for commercial building work. HVAC contractors should never hang over the side of a building to reach for gear or equipment.
HOT EQUIPMENT INCREASES THE POSSIBILITY OF BURNS
Finally, HVAC contractors regularly work with hot equipment and materials. Soldering, for example, is a common practice when fixing heating and cooling equipment. The furnace and air conditioner is often hot, and many types of heating systems use flames to heat homes. Burns, even minor burns, can leave scars and create ongoing pain, while also limiting a contractor’s ability to work. To avoid the likelihood of burns, HVAC contractors should allow equipment to cool before handling it and use appropriate heat-resistant gloves when required. Also, eye protection while soldering should be a requirement at every job.
Working as an HVAC contractor can be a rewarding, lucrative career, but it is not without its dangers. Because of the severity of each of these hazards, from serious burns with hot tools to a fatal vehicle crash that occurs when a contractor falls asleep at the wheel, safety must be at the forefront of everything the contractor does. With proper safety protocols in place, the chance of these serious safety threats can be significantly reduced.