Safety should always be the top priority on solar installations. Running a safe jobsite means properly managing the risk that your team faces each day. In solar installation work, your installation team regularly faces what the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calls “the top 4 construction hazards.” These hazards include falls, electrocution, caught-in, and struck-by. In this article, we’ll briefly discuss each of these hazards as they could apply to solar installations as well as a few ways to reduce or remove the risk.
Beginning each and every workday with a safety briefing is considered a best practice and a requirement at all top solar companies. Each job site presents new obstacles and new opportunities to safely complete an installation. Taking some time to review safety protocol and site-specific information creates a culture of safety. It signals that safety is a priority and a worthwhile investment of time. It increases awareness of hazards on the site. This is also a great opportunity to stretch and prepare for the workday as a team. Solar installation work can be difficult on the body over time, so it’s a good idea to stretch regularly and build flexibility along with strength to minimize injury.
Falls are a common injury within solar installation as residential installations and many commercial installations take place on rooftops. OSHA requires that fall protection be utilized when working at heights above 6 feet. Fall protection can be implemented in a number of ways. Most often on residential solar installations, crews will wear a personal fall-arrest system including a harness and a retractable lanyard attached to the roof using an anchor. Alternative methods of fall protection that are typically employed on commercial rooftop installations include using guardrails or a safety spotter whose only job is to ensure people are not working too closely to the edge.
Falls can also happen using ladders. Ladder related incidents can occur in these common situations: the wrong ladder type is utilized, the ladder is improperly set up, the ladder is not secured to the roof, and three points of contact are not maintained when on the ladder. Ladders should always be inspected, then properly set up using a 4:1 ratio (where for every 4 feet the ladder is vertically, the ladder feet are set up one foot away from the building). See Sean White’s diagram from his 18-Hour Solar PV Boot Camp course below.
Working on solar photovoltaic systems means that there is a risk of electric shock and electrocution in the event that electric current passes through the body. It is critical that installers are well trained on all hazards when working with electricity as even low light conditions can create a voltage potential that can lead to a shock or arc flash. Arc flash is a phenomenon where a flashover of electric current leaves its intended path and travels through the air from one conduit to another, or to ground. The results of an arc flash can seriously injure workers or worse.
While learning to safely work with electricity takes significant time, experience, and education, here are a few tips:
- Utilize proper lock-out/tag-out procedures to ensure that no portions of the system are accidentally energized by another person
- Use a clamp meter to test for hazardous current prior to working on a PV system
- Always work with another person
- Make sure to remove any metal jewelry (as metal is a conductor)
- Use insulated tools
Caught-in hazards occur when a worker could be caught inside of or in between different objects. These types of hazards are often created when working around heavy equipment, like cranes, boomforks, trenchers, and scissor lifts. This type of equipment is common on commercial and utility scale solar sites.
It’s important for workers to always be aware of heavy equipment and assume that the driver of that equipment cannot see them. Workers should always be working at a safe distance and never work under or in the pathway of large equipment.
Other caught-in hazards can include trench-related work where a solar installer could get trapped in an excavation as well as tool hazards where gloves, hair, or body parts can get pulled into moving tool parts.
Struck-by hazards refer to an accident where a worker is hit and injured by an object, tool, or equipment. On residential installations, this can happen when tools or equipment fall from the roof onto someone working below. Workers should wear hard hats on the ground to mitigate the risk of struck-by hazards.
On commercial and utility scale solar installations, struck-by hazards can occur from heavy equipment operation similarly to the hazards mentioned in the previous section. It’s important that workers respect the equipment and always assume that the operator cannot see them. Additionally, utilizing proper personal protective equipment like hard hats and reflective safety vests should be worn at all times onsite.
Strong safety practices enable your team to come home every day from the jobsite. It also improves your company’s ability to land major installation projects as documented safety procedures and OSHA 300A logs are often reviewed in request for proposal (RFP) processes.
It’s important to note that the field of safety is vast and covering each topic area could be a volume in itself.
If you’d like to hear more about solar safety basics, join Sean White in the 18-Hour Solar PV Boot Camp to dive deeper into the common hazards found on solar installation sites.