From Regulation to Operation. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Owners and operators of ammonia refrigeration equipment have a number of regulatory driven documentation requirements, and the level of understanding regarding those requirements can vary from company to company.

The challenge for facility owners and operators begins when they aren’t aware of the regulatory requirements that apply to the ammonia equipment they have and use in their facility.

“There are many who are keenly familiar with the regulations, codes and standards that need to be enforced, but we are aware that there are a number of smaller facilities that are not familiar with the regulations,” said Eric Smith, vice president and technical director for the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration.

While most in the industry understand the basics of regulation and the documentation necessary to operate a facility, not understanding nuances beyond, or even within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Process Safety Management (PSM) and Environmental Protection Agency’s Risk Management Plan can pose a risk.

“There are users who are not aware of [some important] requirements,” said Doug Reindl, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and a member of the IIAR board. “They don’t know what they don’t know.” Bob Czarnecki, chairman of the IIAR standards committee, said it is understandable that there is some confusion surrounding safety requirements. “End users are in the business of making food. They’re not in the business of refrigeration systems,” he said. “If they are not complying, it is because they are unaware.”


Smith said confusion is often found among operators that use less than 10,000 pounds of ammonia, since they don’ t have the same documentation requirements that OSHA and EPA have set for operators using more than 10,000 pounds. In addition, both large and small facility operators often struggle with decisions and documentation requirements related to updating existing systems to current safety standards design.

Under PSM, facilities using more than 10,000 pounds of ammonia are required to document their generally accepted good engineering practices, or RAGAGEP. They are able to determine their own RAGAGEP, but it has to be compliant with the PSM elements and a documented set of industry standards.

“They must state which RAGAGEP they are following. If they fail to declare which RAGAGEP standards they’re following, they leave themselves susceptible to OSHA and EPA inspectors applying RAGAGEP standards that perhaps aren’t suitable for a refrigeration system,” Smith said.

Most companies use IIAR standards and bulletins as their RAGAGEP for ammonia safety standards. “IIAR standards are written as enforceable requirements and provide mandatory requirements for safety design, maintenance, system changes and general operation. IIAR bulletins were not written as a standard but provide informative language as an industry guideline. This has sometimes led to unclear direction and unjustified citations,” Smith said. “Informative language is avoided in standards development, so informative appendices are used to further explain the mandatory requirements without unintentionally creating an unenforceable requirement.”

Reindl said, “The four PSM elements that OSHA most frequently cites include mechanical integrity, process hazard analysis, process-safety information, and operating procedures.”

As a best practice, every location should designate a facility representative to ensure they’re completing the required documentation and training, said Tony Lundell, IIAR director of standards and safety.

“They need to make sure the ammonia refrigeration systems are installed correctly, are being operated, inspected, and maintained safely. Even if a contractor is hired to operate and maintain the system, the owner is completely responsible for all inspections, testing, maintenance, and operating procedures for that specific ammonia refrigeration system, no matter who does it, whether an in-house employee or a contracted employee” Lundell said.

Czarnecki said as part of PSM, operators are required to conduct a mechanical integrity audit periodically. “That is basically an inspection and some testing of your system – is anything rusty, is there significant corrosion that would indicate a concern that the pipe is thinner than it should be, is there moisture, is there frost — you have to determine what you’re going to do to correct it and how you’re going to confirm it gets corrected per your RAGAGEP,” he said, adding that the facility representatives need to act on the recommendation of the audit.

Jett Stiffler, owner of JS Compliance, said, “It is essential that the management team observes Process Safety Management activities and prioritizes those activities based on audit indicators that propose ‘red flags’ and could cause a hazardous condition. For instance, a Process Hazard Analysis recommendation or a Mechanical Integrity Inspection recommendation that is a Level 1 equals a High Priority action item.”

Reindl said owners are also required to audit their PSM/RMP programs for regulatory compliance at least every three years. “The good news is that the compliance audit provides the owner operator a “pulse check. The bad news is a lot can slip in three years,” he said.


While systems over 10,000 pounds require RAGAGEP documentation, systems under 10,000 pounds must adhere to the general-duty clause, which requires operators to provide a safe work place that will not harm anybody. “You have to know what you are doing and you should have operating and maintenance procedures documented and applied to your system. The General Duty Clause says you must make sure it isn’t going to harm anybody,” Lundell said.

Reindl said smaller end users frequently ask if they have a covered process. “They get wind that there are regulatory requirements and they start reaching out and saying, ‘Does this apply to me?’ It is still a bit of a challenge for them,” he said.

While the bulk of the country is held to the 10,000-pound standard, California required documenting the accidental-release prevention program at 500 pounds, said Bill Greulich, principal at Kensington Consulting. “I’d suggest as a general duty virtually everybody irrespective of charge should meet the requirements of that reduced program,” he said. They often overlook the fact that the general duty clause applies to their system.

As a best practice, Czarnecki said that throughout his career, he created an ammonia safety program for facilities that used under 10,000 pounds of ammonia. “It made sure you adhered to the general-duty clause. If you have a release of 400 pounds you’re going to be subject to the same scrutiny as if you had a release of 30,000 pounds. It is just that under 10,000 pounds, you aren’t required to have the same documentation,” he said. “There isn’t a rule out there that says you have to abide by PSM, but in essence you do.”

Lundell said, “The IIAR has developed the Ammonia Refrigeration Management Program (ARM) which has been applied in the industry for a few years now for systems under 10,000 pounds.”


The growth of new types of equipment, such as low-charge systems that use approximately 500 pounds of ammonia or less, could drive growth among contractors and consultants that can help operators understand their documentation requirements. Smith said there are several areas of potential growth for low-charge systems, including grocery stores, commissaries and cafeterias.

However, Smith said some people may be reluctant to try using ammonia where they might otherwise use a synthetic refrigerant. “It boils down to not so much a fear of the chemical but a fear of the regulation surrounding it,” he said.

Smith said service and documentation for low-charge systems could become a growing service area for contractors, engineers and consultants.

He added that there needs to be a means of compliance that is easier but is just as safe as it has been for industrial systems. “One of the most appealing things about low-charge systems is that many manufacturers will use stainless steel components and one of the technical problems of corrosion will be reduced,” he said. In addition, many of the new systems will include factory designed packages that provide built-in monitoring and other safety systems.

There is also a proposal to develop a refrigeration management program for low-charge systems. “The goal, should it be accepted, would be to reduce the amount of documentation and paper burden required for owning an ammonia system provided that manufacturers can provide enough instruction and documentation to maintain and install systems appropriately,” Smith said. He added that it would give operators a way to comply with EPA and OSHA general duty clauses that isn’t as burdensome as compliance for larger systems.

Czarnecki said the growth of low-charge systems could create new opportunities for contractors and consultants. “Owners just don’t have those people on staff and would use outside contractors. The outside contractor is still the responsibility of the facility,” he said.

“You could have places like supermarkets that are going to CO2 in the freezers or the coolers. Right now they’re condensing [the secondary loop] with Freon, but in the future, hopefully they’ll condense or cool with ammonia. All of those people are going to use outside service organizations. They’re not going to have somebody on staff for [smaller systems]. That is where contractors could see an opportunity down the road,” Czarnecki said.

The type of safety requirements for cold storage can vary based on if it is in a commercial or industrial area. “That is largely defined by the model building codes. Typically, commercial is open to the public whereas industrial is restricted to the public and only employees or guests are permitted and present on site,” Smith said. “In some cases there can be a mixed occupancy and it is really a matter of public access or no public access.”


Even if operators hire contractors to help them install and maintain equipment or document safety procedures, Reindl said operators are responsible for meeting all the necessary regulatory requirements. “For some people, that accountability means they will want to know more about the requirements and understand them and not blindly trust the people working for them. Some people will say, ‘I’ll just trust you’re going to take care of it,’” he said. “If it is a smaller company, they typically rely on a contractor to guide them on what the requirements are.” Nevertheless, this does not release management and owners of their regulatory responsibility.

Reindl said, “There are contractors that are well plugged in to the requirements of PSM/RMP while others view these regulatory requirements as solely the owner’s responsibility. There is a parallel to what you see with end users. Some contractors are really good and will try to inform their enduser customers of the refrigeration related regulatory requirements and others carry their customers along kicking and screaming.”

Smith said there is a section on contractor qualifications within PSM. “With a large system, it is absolutely a requirement for contractors to be fully trained and it is incumbent on the owner to make sure their documentation is in order,” he said. “The same thing is applicable for smaller systems.”

The same accountability holds true for owners when purchasing equipment. “You better know what you’re buying and you better know that it is compliant with the RAGAGEP that you have declared,” Smith said. “If you don’t know, it is incumbent on you to hire somebody that does know and ensure equipment is properly integrated into your system.”

When hiring design-build installation contractors, Greulich said owners and operators should know what their code compliance is relative to the installation and if it is being done properly. “A lot of people hire consulting engineers or consultants and then they assume it is done properly. They need to take ownership of what it is they’re paying people to accomplish for them,” he said.


Smith said IIAR receives questions ranging from engineering technicalities to proposed government regulations. One of the most common questions members ask is whether or not they are compelled to comply with recently developed or revised standards. “They ask if they have to update their existing system to be compliant if it is built and operated under older standards, and the answer to that is that it depends on whether or not they are making major changes to their system,” Smith said.

One level of guidance is whether or not a project is large enough to require a permit. That isn’t a legal statement, but it could be used to justify whether or not a system is being updated or merely maintained. “In PSM-regulated facilities, any change in design or components must be accompanied as a management of change (MOC) procedure unless it is like-forlike replacement (i.e. replacement-inkind)”, said Lundell.

Lundell said another common question asked is about the maximum intended refrigerant inventory. “Some will say they operate at certain levels but the inspector wants to know the maximum intended inventory. You can use your operating level as your maximum intended inventory or have a separate maximum intended inventory. But, you need to know and this needs to be confirmed and the proper documentation provided so you can advise the inspector when asked,” Lundell said.


Stiffler said governmental changes, interpretations and updated regulations make it imperative for executive and top-level management teams to be informed and educated on their responsibilities related to the hazards within their facilities. This applies to both large and smaller facilities.

“Unfortunately for the busy plant manager with many other demands in running the day-to-day operation of the facility, the burden of compliance is going to continue to be in the forefront of government with NEP inspections, audits and regulation changes in regards to OSHA 1910.119 PSM Program and the EPA’s 40 CFR Part 68 Risk Management Plan,” she said.

Reindl said that for the most part, large companies understand PSM and RMP at a corporate level. At the individual facility level, the responsibility shifts to the plant manager. “They have varying levels of detailed understanding of PSM and RMP,” he said.

Stiffler said that if top management fails to lead the way to a viable and sustainable safety culture in their organizations and facilities, their contractors, vendors and plant personnel may or may not see the need for safety excellence or will have difficulty getting executive approval for sustaining or upgrading the systems. “It is necessary to have some type of management approach to process safety in order to allow for the planning of needed resources and activities to prevent future events,” she said.

Owners can ensure their personnel know what they need to know by connecting them with professional organizations, such as IIAR, for training or conducting in-house training. “Those are pretty standard approaches,” Reindl said.

Greulich said safety is a continuous process. “There are many, many good people who work really hard at it, but there are still a good chunk of people who think these programs are binders on the shelf,” he said. “Most folks feel validated because they haven’t had trouble yet,” he said. “That in and of itself isn’t necessarily a good measure of having all the right things covered.”

Smith said, “A bad mark by people who are not aware of safety protocols is a bad mark on the entire industry, so we hope that everyone will ask whether or not the facility workers and operators are members and if they aren’t, encourage them to become members and participate in organizations like the IIAR and the Refrigerating Engineers and Technicians Association.