SOLAR INSTALLATION SAFETY BLITZ
Uptake of renewable solar systems is surging globally and Australia are currently leading the charge clocking 2.66 million rooftop solar systems installed across the country as of 31 December 2020. With state and federal government rebates driving an influx of new installers entering the market, Regulators are keeping a close eye on the industry to ensure safety is held as the first priority.
Following a 2020 solar installation blitz by Energy Safe Victoria’s (ESV), SafeWork NSW and NSW Fair Trading have kicked off their joint 2021 Safe Solar Installation campaign. The campaign outlines the Regulator’s clear intent of putting rooftop installers on notice and that installers can expect unannounced workplace visits from inspectors across the state.
WHAT IS IN FOCUS?
Falls from height and electrical risks are key priorities for the safety blitz, while other site risks including working in ceiling voids, manual handling, asbestos, information, training and instruction, and supervision of workers are also in focus.
Whilst the focus of the campaign is to raise awareness of safe practices in the industry, SafeWork have reminded installers that they face on-the-spot fines of up to $720 for individuals and $3,600 for businesses not protecting workers from risks.
It is important to note that the safety blitz will be looking at the industry as a whole and not just on installers. SafeWork reminded all businesses that sell, design and install solar systems that they hold duties to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe for every worker.
If you are a solar retailer who subcontracts the installation work, Inspectors are interested in ensuring that you have adequate systems in place to ensure that installation contractors are undertaking work safely.
WHY THE BLITZ?
Falls from height and electrical risks are two of the four high impact harms at the centre of SafeWork NSW’s Key Priorities as part of their six-year strategy Work Health and Safety Roadmap 2022. With falls being the leading cause of traumatic injury and fatalities in the construction sector in NSW, the 2021 Safety Blitz can be seen as part of their committed focus to reducing these risks and continual poor performance across both the construction and solar installation industry.
In the three years from 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2019 there were 1,414 fall related incidents reported to SafeWork NSW, an average of nine a week. This period consisted of 22 deaths.
In SafeWork NSW v Emu Group Pty Ltd  NSWDC 53, Russell SC DCJ noted that since the start of 2016 and as the date of his Honour’s judgement on 4 October 2019 the District Court of NSW had delivered sentences in 42 cases involving fall from height. An additional 16 have been reported on SafeWork NSW’s website from October 2019 – August 2020.
Following the visit of 100 sites, NSW Fair Trading uncovered dodgy wiring, unlicensed work and a series of issues that lead to 20 on-the-spot penalty fines, seven offences and several serious breached requiring a follow-up investigation.
WHAT GUIDANCE IS AVAILABLE?
To assist businesses and workers, SafeWork NSW has published a ‘Guide to safe solar panel installation 2021’ to provide the industry with clear direction on managing risks.
In addition, SafeWork NSW:
will be holding online safety information events; and
offering $500 small business safety rebate for those who attending events to upgrade safety information.
For installers in Victoria, WorkSafe and ESV have released guideline, ‘Working safely when installing photovoltaic (PV) systems.’
KEY TAKEAWAYS (TO DATE)
In dissecting the guidance and expected safe work practices provided by SafeWork, solar retailers and installers should pay particular attention to the following key points –
dance / Clarification
If the sale of solar panels includes installation, the business must have systems in place to ensure salespersons have sufficient knowledge to identify the installation controls required and to be quoted and incorporated into the installer’s method of work.
Temporary edge protection is considered reasonably practicable and an effective means of preventing falls from roof edges, whilst also increasing productivity.
Consideration should be given to edge protection systems installed from the ground where practicable.
Safe Access & Egress
For large installations, temporary scaffold stairs are or mobile scaffold are an efficient, cost-effective and safe option as a means of access.
An Elevating work platform (EWP) may also be suitable means of access, though an appropriate system of work must be in place to allow safe access.
For smaller works where temporary scaffold or EWPs are not suitable, a mobile scaffold or ladder can be considered.
– When using a ladder, it can only be used for access/egress to the roof, not for transferring equipment or material such as panels and mounting equipment onto the roof.
– Installers should also consider installing a static line to minimise the risks of workers falling from a ladder.
Image 1 & 2: Examples of temporary edge protection
Guidance / Clarification
Electrical work is only performed by someone holding an electrical contractor licence, or an electrical qualified supervisor certificate or under the supervision of a person who holds an electrical qualified supervisor certificate.
Before starting any solar installation work, you must ensure that electricity supplied to the property is turned off and isolated at the main switch board.
– Steps should be taken to prevent electricity being turned back on (during work) through the implementation of a lock-out/tag-out (LOTO) system.
– A lock should be used wherever possible. If use of a lock is not reasonably practicable, then a recognisable lock-out tag should be used.
Handling of Panels
The handling of solar panels and associated installation materials can expose workers to musculoskeletal disorders as well as create falls risks where handling processes are insufficient.
The carrying of panels by workers up ladders is not a safe system of work and must not be performed.
Consideration must be given to the hierarchy of control, for example:
– use a panel lifter;
– use a mobile crane;
– use a scissor lift;
– use a winch and davit arm from a scaffold.
 Clean Energy Regulator, Postcode data for small-scale installations, http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/RET/Forms-and-resources/Postcode-data-for-small-scale-installations  SafeWork NSW, Solar panel photovoltaic (PV) installations, https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/hazards-a-z/solar-panel-installations  SafeWork NSW, Guide to Safe Solar Panel Installation, https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/965861/Guide-to-solar-safe-installation.pdf  National electrical and Communications Association (NECA), NSW government right to shine a light on serious safety risks caused by shady solar installers, https://neca.asn.au/content/nsw-government-right-shine-light-serious-safety-risks-caused-shady-solar-installers  SafeWork NSW (n 3).  SafeWork NSW, Solar Installers Safety Checklist, https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/965888/Solar-installers-safety-checklist.pdf  SafeWork (n 2).  SafeWork NSW, Small business rebate, https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/advice-and-resources/rebate-programs/small-business-rebates  WorkSafe Victoria, Working safely when installing photovoltaic (PV) systems, https://content.api.worksafe.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-12/Working_safely_when_installing_photovoltaic_%28PV%29_systems.pdf  Ibid.  SafeWork NSW (n 3).  SafeWork NSW (n 3).  Ibid