How to integrate software for EPA refrigerant use

Since the passing of the Clean Air Act of 1990 by the Environmen-tal Protection Agency (EPA), facility owners and managers have been required to keep detailed records of their refrigerant use and service. Although manual record-keeping is sufficient in the eyes of EPA, it can be inaccurate and time-consuming. That is why developing a software program that can satisfy these record-keeping needs is important.

In the first part of this two-part series, I discussed the importance of having record-keeping software for EPA refrigerant use and service, touching on the topic of what tools a software program should have for this particular task. In this month's column, I will cover customizing and integrating a successful EPA refrigerant record-keeping program.

Customize for Your Needs

The software you choose should give you the ability to customize the program for your own needs, keep outside contractor records, offer access to online help and EPA regulations, and give you the ability to export data to other formats such as spreadsheets. Reports can give you information to help you run a better business. A good software program will allow you to prepare reports on refrigerant inventory, appliance leakage rates, unrepaired leaks, scheduled leak audits, service records and refrigerant accountability and use.

Be sure to try before you buy. Many software developers offer trial versions of their software. These special versions are restricted in some fashion but will allow you to examine the software to determine if it fits your needs before you make the investment. Trials usually can be downloaded for free from the Internet.

Integrating the Program

Once you have adopted a software program for refrigerant record-keeping, you do not want to throw away your old paper methods -- unless, of course, you are willing to issue a laptop computer to every technician to record information while in the field. Your computer and software should work with your existing record-keeping methods rather than replace them. Your program should supply input forms to supplement or replace your current information- gathering forms. Also, you should continue to store purchase order receipts and other financial records.

Refrigerant prices, especially CFCs, continue to rise, so anyone who is stockpiling refrigerant has valuable property on his or her hands. An accurate, regularly updated computerized database can help prevent loss. Your program's reports can help pinpoint problems like loss or shrinkage due to theft. Conduct physical refrigerant inventory audits on a monthly or quarterly basis and compare those amounts with what has been recorded in the program. If you detect discrepancies, you will have a starting point from which to work to identify the cause. Your software also should alert you to appliances that are leaking at rates above levels allowed by EPA. Schedule periodic leak audits to prevent excessive loss. Consider refrigerant record-keeping a form of asset management.

No-Sweat Inspections

With a thorough, computerized, up-to-date record-keeping system, if an EPA inspector ever shows up at your door to conduct an investigation, you can demonstrate your diligence and compliance by quickly running a variety of reports, including refrigerant usage and inventory, appliance inventory, customer lists, service technician reports, leakage rates and more.

Remember to keep regular backup of data as refrigerant management databases can be vulnerable to problems like viruses, theft or system failures just like any other program. Make backup disks regularly and store them in a safe deposit box or other secure off-site location.

Keep refrigerant records on a computer for the same reason you use your computer to write letters, checks and other business -- efficiency. A good refrigerant management software program offers more flexibility in how you run your business and saves you time and money.