Solar panel photovoltaic (PV) installations
Solar panel photovoltaic (PV) installations are becoming increasingly popular in NSW with more than 85,000 installations in 2020 alone, contributed in-part by a number of government incentives. However, there are significant falls from heights and electrical risks to workers when installing these systems.
The main risks to workers when installing solar PV systems are:
- falling off a ladder
- falling through a brittle roof – such as a skylight
- falling off the edge of a roof
- contact with electricity.
Solar installers, or others with management or control of the workplace, have obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act NSW 2011 & Work Health and Safety Regulation NSW 2017 to keep their workers and others (such as the home-owner) safe.
2021 Safe Solar Installation campaign
SafeWork NSW is working with NSW Fair Trading to ensure the safe and compliant installation of Solar PV systems in NSW. SafeWork inspectors are targeting safe solar installations over 2021 including the development of further industry guidance.
What you can do to work safely
Businesses that sell, design and install solar systems have duties to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risk to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable. You should take the following steps:
General safety preparation before the job starts
- have a site-specific safe work method statement (SWMS) for each job where the risk of falls is two metres or more - and follow it
- identify the hazards and risks at the time of quotation and have the correct safety equipment in place before workers commence
- consult with your workers about how to work safely.
- use scaffold or temporary edge protection (such as roof rails) to protect workers from the risk of falls from roof edges, internal voids or levels. Harness-based systems should only be considered when scaffold or temporary edge protection cannot be used
- assess roofs for fragile and brittle materials and ensure controls are in place to prevent persons falling through such as use of an elevated work platform, physical covers over skylights, mesh or walking platforms over polycarbonate roof sheeting
- provide safe access to the roof. For example, if using a ladder, make sure it's fixed at the top, base and extends 1m past the access point
- if using fall restraint, the system design must include an anchor plan and enough anchors located in positions that enable a worker to traverse the roof safely without reaching a falls hazard
- workers must be connected to harness-based systems at all times and their lanyard correctly adjusted to prevent them reaching a falls hazard. A stopper knot should be used when the worker is conducting a task
- if using fall arrest the roof must be high enough to enable the system to fully deploy
- ensure the wiring of the solar panel installation is done by someone holding an electrical contractor licence or an electrical qualified supervisor certificate, or under the supervision of someone who holds an electrical qualified supervisor certificate
- switch off all sources of electricity to the property and tag them out
- adequately control the risks associated with overhead powerlines and consumer lines
- ensure workers are trained and supervised, particularly young or inexperienced workers
Solar installers face on-the-spot fines of up to $720 for individuals and $3,600 for businesses for not protecting workers from falls from heights and electrical risks.
Check out these solar safety videos
Falls from heights are the leading cause of traumatic fatalities in the NSW construction industry. Watch our safety video to learn about managing the risks of falls during a solar installation.
Electrocution is a leading cause of traumatic fatalities in construction in NSW. Watch our safety video to learn about managing electrical risks during a solar installation.
How we can help
Safety guidance and tools
- Checklist - Construction falls from heights principal contractor safety checklist
- Working at heights – general safety
- Electrical practices - construction and demolition sites fact sheet
- Electrical Work – general safety
- Working in extreme heat
- Solar installation fall from roof - serious injury (7 January 2020)
- Fall through fibro roof - fatality (9 January 2020)
- Fall through polycarbonate roof sheeting - fatality (4 August 2020)
- Electrical hazards when working in ceiling spaces
Codes of practice
- Managing the risk of falls in housing construction
- Managing the risk of falls at workplaces
- Managing electrical risks in the workplace
- Hazardous Manual Tasks
- AS/NZS3000:2018 Electrical Installations (AUS/NZ Wiring Rules)
- AS/NZS 1170.2011(R2016) Structural Design Actions – Wind Actions
- AS/NZS 4994.1.2009 Temporary edge protection – Roof edge protection – installation and dismantling
- AS/NZS 3760:2010 In-service safety inspection and testing of electrical equipment
- AS/NZS 1576.1.209 – Scaffolding – General requirements
- AS 4576:2020 – Guidelines for scaffolding
Health and Safety legal obligations
There are specific laws about working safely at heights: See clauses 78 – 80 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017.
For the specific laws about the risks of electrical work, see clauses 144 – 166 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017.
Electrical risks must also be managed in accordance with clauses 32 – 38 of the regulation, which are applicable to all risks to health and safety.
There are also general work health and safety laws that will apply to you in any situation, including when working at heights or with electricity.