Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

May 14, 2012

solar PV installation

Falls are still a risk for solar PV installers

Who are solar PV installers?

Until 2010, workers who installed photovoltaic (PV) arrays on Oregon rooftops could have come from the ranks of electricians, roofers, or a variety of other construction occupations. However, in 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics gave the job a formal name: solar PV installer. Now, according to the BLS definition, a solar PV installer is one who "assembles, installs, or maintains solar PV systems on roofs or other structures in compliance with site assessment and schematics." (The Oregon Employment Department will not have official employment estimates for solar PV installers until 2013.)

The Oregon Building Codes Division also requires solar PV installers to have a license before they can install solar PV systems; a limited renewable energy technician, general journeyman electrician, or general supervising electrician license is required for systems not exceeding 25 KW. (Division 282: 918-282-0400)

How falls happen

A solar PV installer must have considerable on-the-job experience as an apprentice, including safety training, to obtain a license in Oregon, but falls are still one of the leading causes of injuries among these workers and an ever-present hazard. How do they happen? As the following excerpts from OSHA accident investigation summaries (nationwide) suggest, ladders and a lack of fall protection are the causes.

  • A solar panel installer was installing 80 photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of a home. He was removing a cement roof tile by hand while standing on a sloped roof near the leading edge. When he pulled on a tile, he fell backwards off the roof to the ground, 18 feet below.
  • A solar panel installer was finishing installing solar panels on the roof of a building. As he was descending a 20-foot ladder, he slipped and fell to the ground.
  • A solar panel installer and another worker were walking on a roof and carrying solar panels when one of them lost his balance and fell through a skylight. He fell 37 feet to the building's cement floor.
  • A solar panel installer was carrying solar panels to the ridge of the roof. He went to get another panel when he stepped on a panel that he had just set down. He slipped and fell on the panel, which then slid off the roof. He fell 19 feet to the ground.
  • A solar panel installer was helping to install solar panels on the top of a 60-foot by 130-foot metal frame structure. He was standing on a piece of plywood removing packaging from a bundle of panels when the plywood broke and he fell 10 feet to the ground.
  • A solar panel installer was removing roof tile to secure a solar panel system. While he was moving tile out of the way, one of the tiles that he was standing on broke. He slid off the roof and fell into a basement window well.
  • A solar panel installer was standing on an extension ladder, adjusting pipe to solar panels at the edge of a roof. The ladder slipped and he fell 10 feet to the ground.
  • A solar panel installer was installing solar panels on the roof of a two-story building. A 16-foot extension ladder had been placed against the edge of the roof for access from the first story. As the installer was descending the ladder, it slipped and he fell to the first story then rolled and fell nine feet to the ground.
  • A solar panel installer and a co-worker were installing solar panels on a two-story home that had a one-story attached garage. One of them slipped, slid down garage roof, and fell 10 feet to driveway.

This is a good time to remind contractors whose employees install solar PV systems of their duty to have fall protection and Oregon OSHA's general fall protection requirements. The requirements in 1926.501, Duty to have fall protection, cover the conditions and operations for which fall protection is required and 437-003-1501, General fall protection, establishes the fall-protection requirement and exceptions for workers who walk or work at heights of 10 feet or more.

When workers are exposed to a hazard that could cause them to fall 10 feet or more, they must be protected by a fall-protection system described in 1926.502, Fall-protection systems criteria and practices.


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