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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Addressing ammonia issues

Addressing ammonia issues
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Publication Date:
New Zealand

The ammonia industry in New Zealand is poorly regulated and risks a serious accident unless standards improve, according to the founder and chair of the Ammonia Safety Association of NZ, Paddy Durham.

“In New Zealand we have some world-class [refrigeration] facilities, but the safety systems aren’t always up to scratch, and they’re not being inspected properly,” he told Safeguard. “WorkSafe has upped its inspections substantially since the new law came in, but they have no one with the experience to understand what they’re looking at.”

Durham, who has worked as an ammonia refrigeration engineer for almost 20 years, has done extensive research into the industry’s safety protocols since suffering serious ammonia burns to his legs in a 2004 workplace incident.

“Human error played a pretty big part in what happened – especially in regard to my complacency – but there was also a series of shortcomings in every area, from engineering design, to procedures, to safety systems.

“Even when I took myself to hospital, they didn’t know what to do with me.”

The incident was a wake-up call for Durham. When he returned to work he installed thousands of dollars worth of safety devices on industrial refrigeration systems all over Auckland, without his customers’ approval.

“I put on quick-closing valves,” he says. “If you look at the design standards, they’re supposed to be there, but at pretty much every site, they weren’t.”

He’s spent many hours, outside of work, researching and documenting safety best practice from around the world, so he can share the information with colleagues.

In 2012 he decided that, as a small group within the larger refrigeration industry, ammonia engineers needed their own safety association. The ASA was incorporated in January 2013 and now offers training courses for end users, lobbies government and local authorities about ammonia safety, and provides a platform for communication within the industry (

As ASA chair, Durham says he is in regular contact with WorkSafe and they are receptive to what he says, but the lack of specialist skills in the inspectorate remains a problem.

“We want to ensure the safety and awareness of all New Zealanders working in an around ammonia systems,” he says.

“The problem is we see the trade as very unregulated. If I want to wire a light in a house I need a practicing certificate and a qualified electrician to sign it off, but to operate a large, complex industrial refrigeration machine, housing a volatile hazardous substance under pressure, all I need is a ute and few tools.”



People Mentioned:
Paddy Durham
Organisations Mentioned:
Ammonia Safety Association
Reference No:

From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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