Ammonia refrigeration is an older type of refrigeration, developed in the 1800s, but is still used today in many workplaces like meat processing facilities, wineries and breweries, ice cream plants, cold storage warehouses, and more. It is considered a reliable refrigerant, cost effective, and energy efficient. However, the chemical this refrigeration system relies on, anhydrous ammonia, poses some serious hazards. When working with ammonia refrigeration systems, it is important to be mindful of:
- Spills: Spills or leaks of ammonia are a serious threat to worker’s health. Those who are handling ammonia must be equipped with the proper PPE and the facility needs to implement the appropriate safeguards. Additionally, it is important to be fully prepared with spill kits that can be easily located in case of an emergency.
- The risk of injury and illness: Ammonia is classified as a corrosive chemical, meaning it has the ability to dissolve the structure of an object. Even in small amounts, it can be extremely hazardous to health and can lead to long-term health issues. Anhydrous ammonia can irritate or permanently damage the eyes and when inhaled can cause serious damage to the lungs or even death. If skin comes in contact with skin, exposure can cause irritation, freeze-dry burn, and depending on length and concentration of exposure, tissue destruction.
- The risk of fire or explosion: Ammonia, when mixed with lubricating oils, has a significantly increased flammable concentration range. Explosions can occur if the chemical is exposed to fire or is released in an enclosed space with an ignition source present.
Pipe labeling is always an important safety measure, but this is especially true when it comes to pipes carrying ammonia-based substances. This is one of the few instances in pipe marking that isn’t covered by the ANSI/ASME standard, but rather refers to more specific standards developed by the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR). Ammonia pipe markers are orange labels with black text reading “AMMONIA.” These labels also include abbreviations for components of the system, the physical state (liquid or vapor), the pressure level (low or high, and an arrow indicating the flow direction.