HVAC Safety Guidelines
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals enjoy one of the most rewarding of all skilled trade workers.
As an HVAC technician, you have a job that requires unique skill sets. You need problem-solving abilities, a cooperative approach while interacting with similar tradespersons and excellent communication skills when interacting with customers. You also require detailed technical knowledge about complex equipment.
However, your HVAC occupation isn’t without hazards. HVAC safety is a serious matter, and you require specialized training to recognize and mitigate HVAC safety hazards.
HVAC safety guidelines call for workers to use common sense, analyze potential hazards, and use personal protection equipment (PPE) at all times. Proper safety precautions are fundamental to preventing injuries and losing valuable work time. To reinforce that, it’s vitally important you understand all HVAC safety tips.
On-the-Job HVAC Safety Hazards
One of the benefits you have as an HVAC worker is job variety and moving from site to site during a typical workday. You’re rarely at the same job location for long. However, that movement during the day can expose you to different safety risks.
HVAC safety precautions start with conducting a job safety analysis (JSA), also known as a job hazard analysis (JHA) or a job hazard breakdown (JHB). This step-by-step procedure is necessary to every professional HVAC safety program.
Each job can have unique hazards. Before you start work, it’s imperative you take time to anticipate what hazards you’ll likely encounter on a particular job site. Make a list of what to expect, and rely on your experience and observations. Your safety program may also have a checklist of common situations, such as HVAC electrical safety and carbon monoxide leaks.
Once you make your job safety analysis, you also have to list the steps you’ll take to manage these dangers. Your JSA should include risk-mitigation controls and solutions for each listed hazard. For instance, if you’re dealing with energized equipment, you’ll have a procedure for deactivating the power source, locking out the device, and tagging it to alert any other workers that it’s being serviced.
In the safety industry, deactivating and disabling energy sources is called lockout-tagout, or LOTO. You’ll likely know this, as lockout-tagout procedures are fundamental to all mechanical trades, not just to HVAC workers.
There are other job hazards to be aware of as they can routinely threaten your safety. Here are more examples of regular HVAC safety hazards to consider when you’re making your JSA.
- Fall Protection: Falls are one of the most significant hazards you’ll find on your HVAC job sites. Much of the equipment you’re installing or servicing sits on rooftops, hides in attic spaces or suspends from the ceiling. You’ll often use scaffolds, rung ladders or step ladders to complete a job. You might also use aerial lifts and need to be tied off in a safety harness. Make sure you list every working height task and have proper fall protection included in your JSHA.
- Electrical Hazards: Most HVAC equipment has an electrical component or electrical energy source. You might not be a certified electrician, but as an HVAC technician, you’ll have a keen appreciation for the dangers associated with uncontrolled electricity. Practicing LOTO measures is only part of job-hazard mitigation. Make sure you consider power tools and auxiliary power sources, and have the right PPE in place.
- Weather Protection: HVAC work happens in all types of locations. Some jobs are indoors, while others are outside and fully exposed to weather elements. Weather can be extreme, from searing hot to freezing cold. You need to consider wind, rain, and even lighting conditions. Anticipating weather hazards and having a plan to protect yourself and others is highly important. Sometimes, you may have to stand down or delay work due to weather. As they say, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
- Confined Spaces: The United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) considers confined spaces one of the construction industry’s most pressing hazards. Your HVAC business is no exception. You’ll have HVAC equipment like compressors and air handlers set in small spaces that can make servicing dangerous. Dead air, with its lack of oxygen, makes confined spaces hazardous. Your confined space JSA should anticipate needing an air pack and an immediate rescue plan.
- Sharps Injuries: As an HVAC technician, you’re constantly exposed to sharp objects. That can be shears or utility knives, as well as sheet metal edges if you’re fabricating parts. Consider two areas when doing a sharps-related JSA: one for the actual tools and materials you’re using, and the other for any site PPE. Make sure your tools are proper and your PPE comprehensive.
- Housekeeping: This refers to overall job-site management. Clutter and disorganization are terrible foes on all jobs, including your HVAC work sites. Part of your JSA should be a housekeeping plan to organize materials and equipment. You should have waste disposal and storage facilities on-site, as well as a strategy to safely park vehicles and trailers.
- First Aid: Every JSA should wrap up with your first aid plan. That includes everyone knowing who the designated first aid attendant is, where the first aid post is located and what supplies are available. Your first-aid JSA also needs an emergency plan, including a 911 alert and knowing where the nearest medical facility is.
The time you spend making a realistic job-hazard analysis lets you slow down and think things out. It prevents you from rushing into a job only to discover you don’t have the right tools, materials or methodical work plan. Making a detailed JSA plan also ensures you have your essential safety gear present.
Important Safety Gear for HVAC Professionals
No HVAC professional should consider starting a job without having important safety gear.
Personal protection equipment, or PPE, is part of every competent tradesperson’s toolkit. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should always be wearing every PPE piece. However, you should always have your PPE available, keep it in good condition and know how to use it properly.
Depending on how long you’ve been in the HVAC industry, you’ll have seen an evolution of PPE in the workplace. That includes how PPE standards get enforced and how worker attitudes towards wearing PPE have changed. At one time, PPE was only a last resort to severely dangerous tasks — like using goggles when grinding. Now, PPE is a preventative mindset where workers are committed to safety rather than merely being compliant with OSHA regulations.
The United States Department of Labor (DOL) keeps statistics on its Injury, Illness, and Fatalities (IIF) program. The DOL has detailed records of worker mishaps in every industry — including the construction segment, which includes HVAC workers. Failing to use proper PPE is a leading cause of all workplace accidents. What the statistics don’t tell you is how workers wearing the right PPE could have prevented many injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
As an HVAC professional, you’re exposed to significant job-site hazards. You commonly face high pressures and extreme temperatures — hot and cold. You deal with moving parts and electrical currents. You also face working at height and in tight places using tools that can become hazards themselves. No wonder you need PPE!
Here are the vital safety gear pieces you need as an HVAC technician:
- Eye Protection
Eye injuries are particularly debilitating. Sadly, most eye injuries often could have been prevented.
There are plenty of eye-injury risks in HVAC work. Cutting, drilling, grinding and applying finishes are common tasks. They’re also hazardous to your eyes. Common eye-protection gear includes impact-resistant glasses with side shields, wraparound goggles, and full-face screens and visors. It’s good practice to put on your eye protection at the start of your job and keep it on until finished.
- Hearing Protection
Hearing damage usually happens after long-term and consistent high-decibel noise exposure. It’s rare for a single event to damage your hearing permanently. Over the course of many months or years working in a noisy environment like HVAC, work can result in hearing loss.
You have two main hearing protection types following HVAC safety guidelines. The first are earplugs, while the second is ear muffs. Plugs are suitable to filter general noise but don’t give the same protection that ear muffs do.
- Respiratory Protection
HVAC jobs can be dusty places with chemical and toxic odors. You have fine particles flying from fabrication and noxious fumes from paints and sealants. All of this gets into vulnerable lungs.
Like hearing protection, you have two pieces of breathing gear. One is a disposable dust mask. The other is a filtered respirator. Masks are fine for quick and dusty jobs, but there’s nothing like a HEPA-filtered respirator to give you fume protection.
- Head Protection
Head injuries can be severe, and HVAC workers are regularly susceptible to them. Scalp wounds bleed excessively, while hard impacts can result in traumatic brain injury. They’re easily preventable as long as you’re wearing head protection.
An approved hard hat repels falling items dropped from above. They also prevent collisions when you suddenly raise and strike an overhead object.
To give you the best protection, make sure your approved hard hat fits right, is not modified in any way, and is kept in good shape. Most HVAC technicians wear plastic hard hats, as metal ones conduct electricity.
- Hand and Foot Protection
Two common HVAC-related injuries happen to your hands and feet. Hands are more likely to get cut or burned, while feet suffer crushing, twists and sprain injuries.
HVAC gloves range in materials from leather and rubber to insulated materials. PPE footwear can be steel-toes, slip, and shock resistant and have ankle or metatarsal support. Approved footwear has OSHA-certification labels typically.
- Clothing Protection
Most workers now wear high-visibility clothing on all construction sites, regardless of what specific jobs they hold. Hi-Viz clothing makes sense, as you never know when you might be around traffic or need to be seen by a co-worker. Protective clothing extends to chemical and fire resistant coveralls. Waterproof or repellant wear also falls into the clothing PPE category.
The Most Important HVAC Safety Tips
HVAC workers have specific risks in the trade compared to more general construction workers, and as such, have specific safety tips.
HVAC work involves chemical exposure, pressurized systems, and temperature extremes. Therefore, you have particular hazards to beware of. For all HVAC workers, these are the most important safety tips:
The best advice you and your HVAC co-workers can follow is to have the right attitude. Proper safety starts with a good attitude. Many leading companies use a behavioral-based safety program where they mold the corporate mindset into safety commitment. These companies move beyond a mere compliant attitude, where safety practices only come from mandatory acquiescence. In these companies, safety is simply the way they do business. There is no other culture.
Situational awareness is vital to every HVAC safety program. You need to be alert to hazards at all times, not just when you’re preparing a JSA.
Awareness also comes from not being fatigued or impaired in any way. Proper rest is vital to on-the-job diligence. So is abstaining from any impairing substance like drugs and alcohol. It’s also critical to be aware of other workers and their safety practices. Safety extends to everyone on the job site, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to be mindful of each other.
Electrical safety is immensely important in HVAC work. Almost all HVAC appliances run on electricity, with some even requiring high voltage.
But it’s not the volts that can injure or kill you. Volts are only an electric-potential measurement representing the power needed for a task, similar to pressure in a water system. Its amperes or amps that are dangerous.
Amperage is the amount of current or force an electrical system contains. High voltage without plenty of amperage is nowhere near as dangerous as high amperage in a low-volt system. Always be aware of your HVAC system’s amperage rating.
Common HVAC Safety Mistakes and How to Prevent Them
There’s one common mistake HVAC workers routinely make. And — unfortunately — it's HVAC journeyman veterans who usually make it rather than apprentices or newly-certified tradespeople.
- Complacency: That mistake is complacency, and it’s deadly. HVAC workers who’ve done the same tasks over and over sometimes drop their guard, often unintentionally. They overlook doing a JSA for each job. They fail to wear a piece of their PPE. They may lose alertness because nothing terrible has ever happened. That’s exactly when accidents happen.
- Rushing: Rushing is another serious mistake in HVCA work. Being in a rush or taking shortcuts leads to accidents. Always put safety ahead of speed. A job interrupted by even a minor accident is a costly and possibly life-threatening mistake.
- Miscommunication: Another mistake in HVAC work is communication problems. Everyone involved in a job needs to know what others are doing, and why. Communication happens at all HVAC levels. JSA strategies need oral communication as well as written. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) require clear direction, scope, and purpose. Corporate commitment also needs communicating for true worker buy-in.
Preventing common mistakes comes from building a culture committed to safety. You need to shift your HVAC working behaviors from compliance to total commitment. This happens when management and workers decide as a team that safety is just how they do business.
How StateCE Classes Can Help Protect You
StateCE has helped over 100,000 individuals work safely and grow professionally in many American industries. We’re particularly proud of those in the HVAC business.
Our classes not only help protect you from a job safety concerns, but they also help you legally. Almost all jurisdictions require HVAC workers to be licensed. Re-certification occurs regularly, and StateCE continuing education classes could help you with re-certification in your state. That’s vital to your license and your livelihood in your home state.
You do not need to attend classroom settings when you enroll in StateCE’s HVAC program. We offer affordable and convenient online modules that you complete on your own time, in your own setting. For more information on StateCE programs, read our HVAC info on our industry blog. Or sign up for a course today.