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Rooftop Solar Panel Fall Hazards

Solar panels generate electricity without increasing impact on the environment.  The use of solar panels is one way to cut energy costs.  Between 2008 and 2014, rooftop solar grew an average of more than 50% per year (source) and continues to grow.  But rooftop solar panel system installation and maintenance present potential fall hazards for workers.  Because of rooftop fall hazards, it is important to use proactive measures to properly protect workers.

Rooftop solar panel installation safety can help prevent fall hazards

There are multiple reasons why rooftop solar panels increase fall hazards.  One reason is that installing and maintaining rooftop solar panels means that workers are simply on the roof more often.  When workers install rooftop solar panels, they are at risk of dangerous slips, trips, and falls.  Installation of rooftop solar panels also means that there is less walking area around potential fall areas such as skylights and roof hatches.  With less space to maneuver, there is danger of falls.  With equipment and power lines, there are more trip hazards as well.  So there is a legitimate concern about solar panel installation safety for workers on rooftops.

Although solar panels require little maintenance, it’s generally recommended that they be washed and cleaned from dirt and dust between two to four times each year.  If a panel breaks or malfunctions, it may need to be repaired or replaced.  Repair and replacement of solar panels means workers are on the roof.

Consequently, proper fall protection for solar installers and for workers involved in maintaining rooftop solar panels is necessary.

Rooftop fall hazard areas of concern and worker safety solutions

Falls from heights are a leading cause of death to workers, causing more than one-third of U.S. construction deaths.  In general, the entire rooftop environment needs various safety measures in place to prevent falls and fatalities.  In particular, roof edges, skylights, and roof hatches are all rooftop solar panel installation and maintenance fall hazards.  As a result, precautions are needed for solar panel installation safety and for maintenance work safety.

Employers have a responsibility to identify fall risks and take action to minimize or eliminate fall hazards.  Guardrails help to guard roof edges, skylights, and roof hatches. Further, guardrails are a physical barrier which protects workers from falls as they to do their work of installing and maintenance of rooftop solar panels.

Here are some solar panel installation safety and maintenance work safety solutions to protect workers from falls from elevated surfaces and roofs:

What are some OSHA requirements for solar installers?

Workers need to understand workplace hazards.  Employers need to protect workers from workplace hazards.  OSHA has a variety of standards regarding falls, lockout/tagout, crane and hoist safety, electrical, heat/cold stress, and personal protective equipment.  In terms of falls, OSHA has different fall protection requirements for construction and general industry.  OSHA requirements for solar installers of rooftop solar panels falls under construction standards.  Maintenance of rooftop solar panels falls under general industry standards.

According to OSHA:

  • When workers installing solar panels are exposed to fall distances of six feet or more, they need to be protected from falls by guardrail systems, safety net systems, or personal fall arrest systems.
  • When maintenance work is done, workers exposed to fall distances of 4 feet or more need to be protected by a standard railing. If a standard railing is impossible, then the workers need to be protected by a personal fall arrest system or safety net system.

In this post, we’ve discussed rooftop solar panel installation safety, maintenance fall hazards, solutions to mitigate fall risks, as well as OSHA requirements for solar installers and for maintenance work.   Do you have questions about fall protection for solar installers, solar panel installation safety, meeting or exceeding OSHA compliance, or other fall prevention needs or concerns?  Contact us with your questions.