Employers whose workers install solar panels on rooftops in New South Wales are being warned to expect a crackdown amid evidence of rampant safety breaches on solar installation work sites.

In its latest announcement, Customer Service NSW has said that SafeWork NSW will target the solar installation sector under a six-month, state-wide operation which is designed to ensure that safe work practices are being followed.

This follows the identification of rampant safety breaches during an audit of sites last year.

Of the 268 sites visited during that audit:

  • 69 percent were either using no fall protection at all or were relying solely on harnesses. This is despite the fact that the best protection comes from using either roof rails or scaffolds. Harnesses should be used only as a last resort where roof rails cannot be installed. Of those sites using harnesses, almost one third (32 percent) did not have appropriate anchor points in place whilst half (50 percent) were not clipped to anything.
  • 26 percent did not have their ladder fixed at the top and did not have the ladder extend one meter past the landing space.
  • 27 percent did not place a lock on either the main electrical switch or the meter box.
  • 14 percent did not adequately address the risk of overhead powerlines.

The blitz comes amid an increase in the number of solar systems being installed on rooftops over recent years amid the uptake of renewable energy in Australia.

From a safety viewpoint, a major risk associated with solar installation involves falls from height.

Throughout both NSW and Australia, this is the biggest cause of fatality on construction sites.

Moreover, most serious and fatal falls come from roofs, ladders or unsafe scaffolds and occur from a height of four meters or less – the length of a single storey house.

Other potential hazards include electrocution, asbestos exposure and hazardous manual tasks such as handling or moving panels or handling solar panel mounting kits.

Risks are real.

In January 2020, an apprentice electrician fractured his pelvis and back after falling more than three metres from a roof while installing solar panels at a construction site in Parklea.

Later that year during another solar install, a 27-year-old roofing contractor fell more than three metres through the roof of a sheering shed fracturing his back, at a rural property in Alectown near Parkes.

A guide to safe installation of solar panels is available on the SafeWork NSW website.

Rebates of up to $1,000 are available to go toward the cost of workplace health and safety items.

During the safety campaign, SafeWork will work with retailers and installers to ensure that safe practices are being followed.

On the spot fines of up to $3,600 may be issued for safety breaches.