CIOs and IT managers are increasingly at risk of been caught out for failing to comply with a EU directive on refrigerant gases used in cooling systems for server rooms and data centres.

So warned on365, a specialist in datacentre and server room management. To comply with European Fluorinated Gas regulations (F GAS), all personnel involved in refrigerant gas installation, maintenance, servicing, checking and recovery will need to obtain "next stage" UK F Gas qualifications from July 2011 at the latest.

on365 feels that many businesses are unaware of the regulation and that their equipment installers may lack the necessary refrigerant handling training to comply with the directive. This could potentially, says on365, lead to a shortage of trained engineers to maintain datacentres and computer rooms' cooling equipment by the time the EU regulations are tightened in 2011.

"The story we are hearing on the street is that businesses are not aware of this, or if they are, they don't want to spend the money," said Chris Smith, sales & marketing director at on365. "We reckon there is going to a be a log jam in training, as companies are more concerned with controlling costs and saving money at the moment."

"These European regulations actually came into force in 2006 but it has taken a while to be ratified," said Carl Richardson, Technology Support Manager at on365. "But they are now putting teeth into the regulations. By 4 June, 2011, the City and Guilds Safe Handling certificate will no longer be valid."

And it seems that this is not just a headache for the engineers, but also the IT managers and any companies using cooling systems.

"The acts says that 'unless certified, companies will not be allowed to receive products containing F gases', which includes air conditioning systems, chillers, etc," said Richardson. "Any unit which uses over three kilograms (kgs) of refrigerant gases qualifies for this," he warned.

"If a unit uses three kgs to 30kgs of refrigerant gases, there needs to be a leak test carried out every 12 months. For systems using 30kgs to 300kgs, a leak test is needed twice a year, and above 300kgs, there needs to be a permanently installed leak testing system," he said.

"The act also says that it is 'illegal to top up the system without first finding and then repairing the leak' and that a leak of 1kg of refrigerant gases is 'equal to causing the same environmental damage as driving a van 10,000 miles'," added Richardson.

"People who own the equipment are going to bear this burden," he warned. "Ultimately, because you are operator of the cooling system, you are responsible for it."

Richardson believes that while the big manufacturers aware of this directive, many people at the grass roots are not. He estimates that there are 40,000 cooling engineers in the UK. "How aware are they, and how quickly can they get trained?" he asked.

"There are now financial penalties for not complying, but the worse case scenario could see the Health and Safety Executive putting a probation order in order to shut down a datacentre," he said.

He recommends that from an ongoing works point of view, IT managers need to make sure that people they are using are properly certified. "Which is not to say that existing uncertified engineers cannot do the job, but they need to be properly trained and certified."

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