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:
- Herniated discs
- 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
- Internal Injuries
- Puncture Injuries
Workers who are six feet or more above a lower level need to have some protection:
- Guards around edges
- Covers over holes
- Safety nets
- 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:
- Thermal burns
- 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
- Puncture injuries
- 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.
IMPROVE ELECTRICAL SAFETY AND KEEP WORKERS SAFE
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