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For Your Safety: Red Flag

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It is that time of year again. The time when HVAC professionals identify serious safety faults during maintenance inspections and service calls. Some contractors believe they have the authority to red tag the HVAC system. That is to disconnect the power or shut off the fuel supply and leave the home. That is dangerous for everyone: the customer and the contractor. When a serious fault is identified, ACCA recommends that HVAC professionals thoroughly document the situation, notify the customer, and propose repairs that will solve the problem. If the customer does not want to effect repairs, then obtain their written confirmation of their knowledge of the dangerous situation.

Serious Faults

Code officials and utilities have a high level of authority and responsibility. Based on the code adopted by the jurisdiction, code officials can stop work on any building that is in violation of the provision of the code or in a dangerous or unsafe manner (IMC A113.1, IRC R114.1., UMC 103.1). Utility representatives have the authority to turn off power or fuel to appliances that are deemed unsafe. The process that a code official or utility representative follows does not always involve a red tag. But that term has been associated with shutting off power or fuel that it is now commonly referred to as red-tagging.

HVAC professionals do not have this authority.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The danger level of any given issue with an HVAC system rests with the technician on the job. Many companies rely on their technician’s experience or knowledge to evaluate the situation. Good companies rely on what their technicians know, and they reach out to the local utility to learn what criteria they deem necessary to terminate service. Then they draft clearly written guidance about what constitutes a dangerous situation. Outstanding companies ensure they train their technicians on this guidance and how to share with the customer. They regularly review this material to ensure they protect their customers, their technicians, and their business.

Solve the Problem

Whether the danger is carbon monoxide from a blocked flue, or potential combustion from a fuel leak, or an electrical short from frayed line-voltage wiring, thorough HVAC professionals will document the problem, provide options, and a proposal to repair it. If the problem violates a code provision, it should be cited in support. ACCA recommends photographs or video proof as part of this documentation. This information needs to be presented to the customer and saved as part of the record for this visit.

If the customer refuses the repair, HVAC professionals should ensure that the danger’s seriousness is carefully explained. I’m not a fan of scare tactics to sell repairs. However, when there is a risk to life or property, you must carefully and thoroughly explain the situation to the customer.

Customers are not obliged to accept your proposal for repair; that is their prerogative. But, to protect your company from liability, they must acknowledge the severity of the problem. You can emphasize the severity of the fault with a red-flag, as opposed to a red-tag. If the customer is present, then they must acknowledge the red flag notification in writing. This poses a problem if they are not present and you are conversing on the phone. Whether in person or on the phone, inform them of your intent to notify the appropriate utility to prevent damage to life or property.

NOTE: The terms repair, issue, and problem are used as if the situation or circumstances were unremarkable. Warnings to notify a utility are for dire situations. Be sure you know what the utility considers dangerous so that the warning to notify the utility is credible and not viewed as an idle threat.

Good HVAC professionals have policies that instruct their technicians about the dangerous situations, the actions to be taken, and they train on them regularly. Protect your customers, your technicians, and your business… for your safety.
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