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R410a refrigerant charge

It’s not only the environmental dangers of R-410A that are worth discussing, but the health hazards as well. Here’s what you and your HVACR technicians need to know before working on that next air-conditioning unit. 

These Are the Symptoms of Refrigerant Poisoning

Concentration and Coordination Issues

Exiting the area and inhaling fresh air should help the symptoms pass, but you may need oxygen if prolonged exposure has occurred. 

Dizziness and Drowsiness

The heavy vapors of R-410A can make you unsteady on your feet if you continue inhaling the refrigerant-infused air. You might feel like you’re about to faint or even pass out in some instances. 

Once again, the best course of action is to exit the area with the refrigerant in the air and breathe in fresh, outdoor air until your symptoms pass.

If you’ve fallen unconscious, someone else should call for medical attention. You will receive oxygen from an EMT and possibly require hospitalization or a medical follow-up. 

Skin and Eye Irritation

R410a cooling agent

R-410A refrigerant exposure can lead to physical symptoms as well. 

For example, if you get the coolant in your eyes because you’re not wearing protective equipment, you can experience redness, tearing, pain, and irritation. If your skin was exposed, the area can swell up, turn red, itch, and hurt. 

When eye exposure occurs, spend at least 15 minutes flushing your eyes with as much water as possible. The water temperature should be lukewarm. If this doesn’t help with symptoms, see a doctor. 

Skin exposure to R-410A should be treated by flushing the skin using lukewarm water. Gently bathe the area and never rub. If you can’t access water, wiping the area with a clean cloth suffices, but the surface should be soft. 

This should ameliorate your symptoms, but if they persist, you should seek medical attention within the same day of exposure. 

Frostbite and Cold Burns

If you’re directly exposed to the liquid form of R-410A, you could potentially develop cold burns or even frostbite, even if the refrigerant doesn’t feel cold. You will then experience symptoms such as numbness, stiff muscles, waxy or hardened skin, and a prickling sensation.

You’ll also notice skin discoloration, and not only redness. The skin can become ashen, brown, purple, gray-yellow, or blue-white, an indicator that something is clearly wrong. 

Flushing the exposed area per the instructions above could save your skin. Remember never to rub skin affected with frostbite, as it will be painful and could worsen the damage. 

Heart Rate Changes and Arrhythmias 

Exposure to R-410A can cause worrisome heart symptoms. You might notice that your heart begins thumping and you feel apprehensive, or perhaps you have an odd feeling in your chest while your heartbeat is irregular. 

You could even develop a heart arrhythmia, which produces many of the symptoms you’ve learned about already. They include anxiety, shortness of breath, pressure in the chest, sweating, heart rate changes, feeling like you’ll faint (or fainting), dizziness, fatigue, and weakness. 

Strategies for HVACR Professionals to Stay Safe When Working with Refrigerant 

The best strategy for avoiding refrigerant poisoning is to stay away from coolant altogether. However, your job as an HVACR technician doesn’t allow for that, so how can you stay safe out there?

Here are some tips to implement. 

Invest in Protective Equipment

R410a replacement gas

Your team should always wear protective equipment when working with air conditioners, heaters, and other HVAC systems that use coolant. The equipment should include eye protection such as goggles or glasses, long sleeves and pants, gloves, and a face mask.

Wearing protective equipment makes it much harder to directly inhale or ingest the refrigerant gas. You also limit the amount of exposed skin, mitigating the risk of frostbite, while safeguarding your eyes from symptoms. 

Learn the Signs of Exposure

Review the information from the section prior and share the symptoms with your team. The goal is to help your fellow HVACR technicians identify signs of refrigerant poisoning in themselves and their fellow crew.

You should also train your team on how to handle R-410A exposure, such as getting outside into fresh air and flushing the eyes or skin after exposure. 

Train in Proper HVACR Handling 

Another area of education worth expanding upon is how to correctly handle HVACR equipment. These units are heavy and require a careful hand and expertise when operating, repairing, or servicing them. 

FAQs

Can R-410A Exposure Be Deadly? 

Yes, it certainly can be. A heart arrythmia increases your risk of cardiac arrest, heart failure, and stroke. Moreover, if you’re in an enclosed environment and breathing in R-410A for long enough, it can asphyxiate you since it displaces oxygen in the air. 

Can You Ingest R-410A?

It’s unlikely but not impossible. You might experience the skin symptoms someone would have after direct exposure, and you could have gastrointestinal pain and difficulties. 

Can You Smell or Taste R-410A?

No, you cannot, nor does it have a flavor. The refrigerant is colorless and odorless, making detection difficult until symptoms manifest.