The solar photovoltaic (PV) industry has grown rapidly in recent years and shows no sign of slowing down. As more employees install more PV systems in the coming years, they must take care to remain safe on the job.
This infographic breaks down the hazards associated with PV installation and offers tips to work safely and improve efficiency.
Photovoltaic (PV) Solar Power Hazards & Safety
10.6 GW of new solar PV power came online in the U.S. in 2018.
14.6 GW of new solar PV power was installed in the U.S. in 2016, a 95% increase over 2015.
64.2 GW total in the U.S.
1.6% total U.S. electricity generation is from solar.
According to the EIA, from 2008 to 2018, total solar power generation in the U.S. increased from 2 million MWh to 96 million MWh.
In 2018 20 GW of production capacity came from small-scale (customer-sited or rooftop) solar PV installations. 30 GW were available in utility-scale solar systems.
With the rapid rate of growth, safely installing PV solar is paramount:
As of 2018, there are more than 242,000 solar workers in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
The industry projects 401,200 solar jobs by 2021; 581,600 solar jobs by 2026.
While solar energy is among the cleanest and least hazardous of energy sources, there are four significant hazards during installation and maintenance: Lifting, Trips & Falls, Electrical, and Ladders.
Solar panels are awkward and heavy. Improperly lifting panels can cause strains, muscle pulls, and serious back injuries, including:
Rotator cuff tears
Hip and low-back strains
Use mobile carts, forklifts, or other non-manual methods to reduce lifting.
Use gloves to protect your hands and improve your grip.
Get a secure grip with both hands.
Use smooth, even motions.
Keep the load as close to the body as possible.
Step to one side or the other to turn. Do not twist your body.
TRIPS AND FALLS
In construction, falls accounted for nearly 39.2% of fatalities in 2017. The most common height of fatal construction falls was from more than 30 feet (107 deaths of 325 fatal falls).
Other risks include:
Broken, Fractured, or Shattered Bones
Severe Back, Neck, and Head Trauma
Workers who are six feet or more above a lower level need to have some protection:
Guards around edges
Covers over holes
Personal fall arrest systems
When using a personal fall arrest system, the harness must be rated for at least 5,000 pounds, and the anchoring system must be rates for at least 5,000 pounds per attached worker.
Identify all potential slip, trip, and fall hazards before starting.
Keep work areas clear of debris and obstructions, including loose shingles, poorly-placed tools, and electrical cords.
Ensure work surfaces are free from ice, oil, water, and other substances.
Solar systems include many components that conduct electricity. Electricity comes from two sources: the utility company and the solar array (i.e. the sun). Even when a building's main breaker is shut off, the PV system will continue to produce power. Risks include:
Muscle, nerve, and tissue damage
Falls from a surprise shock
Even low-light conditions can create sufficient voltage, shocking a worker and causing a fall.
Inspect your equipment to ensure it's in safe working condition.
Work a safe distance from power lines.
Cover the solar array with an opaque sheet to "turn off" the sun's light.
Lockout/Tagout and de-energize AC and DC power sources.
Always test circuits to ensure they are de-energized before working on them.
Use a current clamp to check for hazardous energy before working on PV panels.
Take special care around inverters. These can hold a powerful charge even when power is removed.
Never disconnect PV connectors or other equipment that's under load.
Wear the appropriate PPE for electrical safety.
In 2016, there were 849 fatalities from falls; 170 of those fatalities were falls from ladders.
Other risks include:
Fractures or sprains
Back, neck, and head trauma
Cuts and bruises
Inspect ladders before use. Mark defective ladders with a label stating "Do Not Use."
Use a fiberglass ladder with non-conductive side rails near power sources. Aluminum and metal ladders are hazardous near power lines or electrical work.
Ensure that ladders will extend a minimum of three feet above the last rung that the worker will stand upon.
Place the ladder on dry, level ground, away from walkways and doorways, and a safe distance from power lines. Secure ladders to ground or rooftop.
Grasp the horizontal ladder rungs (not the vertical rails) and maintain 3 points of contact.
Never carry a solar panel or other equipment while climbing a ladder. Use a winch or hoist system to lift solar panels to the roof.