JCB, the world’s biggest earth-moving equipment maker, said on Wednesday it was suspending production at two UK factories in the face of a refrigerant shortage brought on by the European Union’s decision to ban chemicals used in the technology.
JCB, which employs 4,400 in the UK, is one of a number of companies that use refrigerant containing HFO-1234yf. The chemicals had been a common ingredient in cooling systems for heavy equipment in the UK since the 1970s, and were meant to be phased out by the EU in December 2020.
In January, the EU’s chemical safety committee said that 30 per cent of cooling systems made in recent years failed laboratory tests of emissions. There is evidence that HFO-1234yf and other chemicals used in similar products have health risks.
“We’re taking what action we can given the short time period we have to meet new requirements,” said a spokesman for JCB.
The company, which first installed the refrigerant in its giant plant in Staffordshire in 1976, said it had made its final deliveries of the substance to the UK in December 2018. It already has sub-contractors making up the shortfall.
Construction and engineering groups including IMI, Balfour Beatty and Carillion have also been affected by the decision.
The EU’s announcement means JCB has more than a year to decide how much cooling equipment it can safely replace without disrupting its business. However, the company and its suppliers will have to check the environmental side-effects on the manufacturing process in order to be sure the new refrigerants will not affect design processes.
JCB said its staff affected by the suspension of production would have the right to request other positions if suitable, and would be supported in obtaining new positions.
“We’re currently working on plans and assessments and will work through the transition to ensure a smooth return to production in a timely manner,” said the spokesman.