HVAC workers are regularly exposed to hazards like electrical shock, burns, and ergonomic injuries. This is due to workers handling heavy equipment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they suffer from one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses. 

Here’s a real-life example of the deadly hazards HVAC workers can encounter. On August 24, 1994, an experienced, certified HVAC contractor and his 23-year-old employee were installing air conditioning duct work at a private residence. As the employee drilled a hole to install aluminum straps around the duct work, the sharp edge of the strap contacted house wiring and damaged its insulation. The strap and the drill bit became energized, and the current passed through the employee. During his rescue of the employee, the contractor contacted an energized water pipe touching the employee and the current passed through him as well. Both victims were pronounced dead by the attending physician at the hospital. 

It’s critical to understand common injuries in the HVAC industry to identify and prevent the related hazards. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the top 10 injuries for HVAC contractors are sprains, strains, and tears, fractures, cuts, lacerations, and punctures, amputations, and heat and chemical burns. 

Work-related injuries or disorders affecting muscles, tendons, nerves, cartilage, joints, or spinal discs are known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Repetitive movements like the routine lifting of heavy objects, daily exposure to whole body vibration, routine overhead work, and completing repetitive, forceful tasks can lead to MSDs. Examples of injuries include carpal tunnel syndrome, bulging discs causing back pain, and hernia. Workers in heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installer occupations are at a high risk of MSDs according to OSHA. This is due to factors like lifting heavy items, bending, and reaching overhead. OSHA recommends implementing ergonomic processes to help reduce the risk of MSDs. 

Fractures, sprains, strains, and tears commonly occur because of slips, trips, and falls on the job site. Causes for these types of injuries range from losing your footing to environmental elements to falls from height. HVAC technicians work in a variety of environments like homes, schools, hospitals, office buildings, or factories. They work both indoors and outdoors, often in cramped spaces, and can travel to different locations for service calls. These unpredictable and changing settings require special care in preventing injuries related to slips, trips, and falls. 

Cuts, lacerations, and punctures can include scratches, minor cuts, deep lacerations that need stiches, and amputations. Causes of cuts and lacerations include insufficient training, hurried, unsafe work practices, failing to wear hand protection, contact with metal items, and using hand tools or machinery with blades. HVAC workers can also suffer from amputations when working with equipment using fans, such as air handlers and exhaust fans. 

HVAC technicians install electrical components and wiring, which puts them at risk of heat burns and shock. They also work with refrigerants in refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment. Refrigerants can be toxic, flammable, and cause asphyxiation. Technicians are required to follow specific regulations for conserving, recovering, and recycling refrigerants.  

Effective training can help your HVAC workers prevent injuries and become more productive. TPC Training is here to assist you. See our wide variety of courses covering topics like air conditioning/refrigeration, introduction to electricity, and ammonia refrigeration for more information.  



About the author:

Taylor Sikes is a safety professional with over 15 years of experience. He has served as an OSHA-authorized trainer for construction and general industry, holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of Georgia, and has authored numerous courses in workplace safety.


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