After posting the article about cutting out compressors because of the safety hazard, Jaroy Roberts wrote me describing an accident he had while changing out a compressor. I am grateful to Jaroy for sharing his story. I believe a real story is far more effective than anything I can say. Jaroy's story and photos showing the injuries he sustained follow.
"Hello, my name is Jaroy Roberts and I am the Instructor for Midland College's two year HVACR program. On Oct. 16, 2001 and was severely burned by just such an incident. I was called in to change a compressor for another technician who had diagnosed the bad compressor but did not have the skills needed to replace it. I showed up and put my recovery bottle in a big trash can full of ice water. I then hooked up the recovery machine and hoses and started pulling refrigerant out of the system(or so I thought) and once the recovery was started I proceeded to get all the rest of my tools and parts on the roof. Once I had everything I needed to complete the job, I looked at the recovery equipment, and all gauges showed to be in a vacuum. I shut everything off and started to take out the compressor by de-brazing it. The Txv capillary had a hole rubbed into it, and the sensing bulb had lost it charge. This had the txv shut down completely, and with no low pressure switch in the system the compressor had run until it burned up and caused a bad compressor burnout. The burnout had filled the high side service port full of trash as well so the true pressure could not be read. The failure of the txv plus the valve on the discharge of the compressor had the refrigerant trapped in the high side. All 14 lbs. of it. When I de-brazed the discharge line out of the compressor the full charge left in the system started blowing out and coating everything will oil that ignited. The gas itself was extremely hot from having been heated with the torch. Now this compressor was the fourth one back inside of this unit which was a York 20 ton that had four five ton compressors. So I was up inside the unit at the back of the compressor compartment surrounded by condenser coils and fan motors and shrouds above me. The fire was between me and the exit out of the unit. I was completely covered with ignited high pressure oil spraying all over me like a blow torch. I now stress the importance of cutting open every system before lighting a torch. It was and experience that was extremely painful and took a long time to recover from. I have included a few pictures taken many days after the incident."