Industry pays tribute to refrigerant pioneers

Friday, October 1, 2021

The refrigeration and air conditioning industry owes a huge debt of gratitude to the founding members of what is now the country’s main F-Gas register, according to a former President of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA).

In a speech marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of REFCOM, Malcolm Thomson said the original members had displayed “true vision” and paved the way for much higher professional standards and better environmental protection.

“REFCOM has been helping refrigeration and air conditioning companies demonstrate their business and technical credentials and promoting higher professional standards of refrigerant management for a quarter of a century. That is quite a milestone,” Thomson told a celebratory event in central London.

He thanked REFCOM’s staff and leading industry figures, including the late Norman Mitchell* and Tony MacWhirter, who had helped to drive a voluntary initiative that was later used by the government as the basis for the country’s first mandatory registration scheme when the F-Gas Regulation came into force in 2009.

“They often say that pioneers die with arrows in their backs, but these individuals had a much better fate because they had a vision – and the future proved them right,” said Thomson. “It would be fair to ask – what would the government have done if our scheme had not already been in place?”

Voluntary
REFCOM recorded its 7,000th company membership this year, which represents an estimated 90% of the total number of firms operating in the refrigeration and air conditioning sectors. After the establishment of the mandatory register, REFCOM continued to manage a voluntary scheme – renamed REFCOM Elite – for those companies who wanted to go above and beyond simply meeting their legal obligations.

“Achieving regulatory compliance is important, of course, but many of us felt we should go further than that and demonstrate higher levels of customer service and environmental responsibility,” explained Thomson to an audience of more than 50 members and staff.

REFCOM Elite now has more than 300 members and was extended in 2019 to include distributors and wholesalers, who share the aspirations of the contractor membership for higher professional standards cross the whole supply chain.

Thomson quoted a study carried out by the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute that found that the UK had a higher reported rate of refrigerant recovery than almost every other major global economy.

“Much of that success was down to the compliance system created by REFCOM,” he said. “However, we know the war against irresponsible behaviour is not yet won. We continue to work closely with the Environment Agency (EA) to target rogue operatives who stubbornly remain outside the law.

“They put the quality of services and products at risk, endanger lives and property, and undermine the UK’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“Just last week the EA hammered a company with a fine of more than £1 million for breaching the F-gas Regulations. That is a hugely welcome breakthrough and should send a powerful message to all the other offenders out there,” added Thomson.

That successful prosecution was the result of a tip-off from a REFCOM member and Thomson urged all responsible firms to continue being vigilant. “Without your eyes and ears out there in the field, the regulator would not be able to bring to justice these people who bring our whole profession into disrepute.”

*Norman Mitchell’s son Garrion attended the celebration and was presented with a certificate by REFCOM head of technical Graeme Fox as both a tribute to his father and to commemorate Mitchell’s (Gloucester) Ltd, as one of the founding companies that remains in membership to this day.

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