How to put refrigeration Health & Safety risks on ice

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How to put refrigeration Health & Safety risks on ice

Smart Air Refrigeration

Health & Safety law and regulations have evolved over the years to protect everyone in the workplace and have been brought about as a result of actual incidents in which people have been harmed. So, apart from the threat of prosecution if you get it wrong, there’s also a risk someone will be injured if you don’t get it right.  The most obvious health and safety risk involving refrigeration is cold stress with walk-in cold stores and freezers.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) doesn’t have specific guidance for people working in a space below the 13°C normally regarded as a minimum for work environment, but you should be fine if you work in accordance with British or European Standards or can show compliance by other means.

British Standards such as BS EN SO 15743: Ergonomics of the thermal environment. Cold workplaces. Risk assessment and management and BS 7915: Ergonomics of the thermal environment. Guide to design and evaluation of working practices in cold indoor environments are a good starting point.

Health issues

Health issues of staff you need to consider when assessing individual needs include asthma and other respiratory conditions (as freezer air is very dry) and cardiovascular and circulatory conditions such as Raynaud’s disease.

For healthy staff, health and safety temperature requirements in chill units and freezers can be met by keeping staff warm via suitable thermal clothing, appropriate breaks to warm up, task rotation etc. For prolonged work in chillers around 0°C, suitable clothing and normal breaks are usually enough.

Means of escape also have to be provided in case of accidental entrapment inside – doors should be able to be opened from the inside and lighting or illuminated controls provided to allow the door and opener to be seen when the door is closed. Risk assessments may recommend a trapped person alarm.

Food retailers

A more common refrigeration health and safety scenario is in retail food businesses using display cabinets and bottle coolers.

For them the key cold temperature control measures set out in Food Standards Scotland’s RetailSafe pack to avoid bacterial contamination are:

  • Incoming Stock: 1) Transport/accept chilled or frozen food at your specified temperature e.g. 5°C/ -18°C or below; 2) It may be appropriate when collecting food to create a time limit for the journey back – the shorter the journey, the lower the temperature of the food on arrival
  • Storage: Store chilled and frozen food at your specified temperature, e.g. 5°C/-18°C or below
  • Preparation: 1) Keep cooked/ready-to-eat food within the refrigerator or chill until it is required, then prepare/handle without delay; 2) Thoroughly defrost all frozen foods in a refrigerator, chill or cool area
  • Cold Display: Chilled foods being displayed cold should be kept under refrigeration at your specified temperature e.g. 5°C or below until sold

Extra advice

In addition: Food Standards Scotland advises the following:

  • Check your Critical Limits are being met by monitoring with a suitable thermometer, disinfected before and after use and checked with ice water periodically (it should be between -1°C and +1°C)
  • Chill sandwich filling ingredients before placing in the display cabinet
  • Don’t switch off refrigerators and freezers overnight to save electricity costs
  • Don’t overstock display cabinets, chills and freezers
  • Check all refrigerator, chill and cold display cabinet temperatures at the start of the day and at another time
  • Avoid checking the temperature immediately after the door/lid has been open for any significant period of time or during a defrost cycle
  • When checking a freezer is working properly, it may be enough to make sure its contents show no visible evidence of defrosting. It’s good practice to do an occasional check with a handheld digital thermometer
  • You should create a set of House Rules recording all of the above and included training on them in the new staff induction process

Pressurised system

The one health and safety risk common to both is that of the fact that a refrigeration unit is a pressurised system using gases for heat exchange.

HSE says the principal causes of incidents are: poor equipment and/or system design; poor equipment maintenance; an unsafe system of work; operator error or poor training/supervision; poor installation and inadequate repairs or modifications.

It says the level or risk depends on a number of factors including: the pressure in the system; the type of liquid or gas and its properties; the suitability of the equipment and pipework that contains it; the age and condition of the equipment; the complexity and control of its operation; the prevailing conditions and the skills and knowledge of the people who design, manufacture, install, maintain, test and operate the equipment and systems.

To reduce the risk of problems, it advises:

  • Ensure equipment is suitable for its intended purpose and installed correctly by a qualified person
  • Repairs or modification are done properly by a qualified person
  • You know and keep to the safe operating conditions
  • Ensure a set of operating instructions is available and accessible to appropriate staff and they’re properly trained in the use of the equipment
  • All equipment should be properly maintained with a scheduled maintenance programme taking into account the system and equipment age, its uses and the environment
  • Watch for tell-tale signs of problems with the system and signs of wear and corrosion

For more details of the advice summarised here, go to the HSE website at and Food Standards Scotland at

Aiken is an experienced independent air conditioning and refrigeration specialist servicing the industrial, commercial and marine sectors across Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Dundee. For more information please contact us directly.