How to install solar panels safely

By Soni Sheimar, General Manager, Easi-Dec  Ltd

Latest figures show that the UK installed more new solar power capacity last year than any other European country and this year 2GW have already been installed as solar farm developers rushed to complete installations ahead of this month’s subsidy cuts for large solar farms.  The industry in general is optimistic that the new Government will continue to support solar and, if solar continues to grow as it has over the years, PV output will match global demand in 18 years.  

In order to make the most of current opportunities, it’s essential that installers follow best practice and invest in both training and equipment so that they can ensure work is carried out safely.  After all, no-one is going to recommend a company if an installation’s been botched or there’s been accidents.

The following tips are by no means extensive, but are a good starting point to help you to carry out a professional installation.

Planning the solar installation work

Before starting work, always plan it thoroughly. Identify any hazards and decide on what precautions should be taken to ensure the work can be carried out safely.  Areas to consider include, but are not limited to:

Can the roof structure take the weight of the panels, those working on the roof and any equipment?

Are there any fragile materials on the roof, for example fibre cement sheets or rooflights on farm buildings or sky lights on residential properties?

Are there any overhead power lines near to where you will be working?

Can future building maintenance, such as tile and flashing repair, be carried out easily once the panels are in place?

How will workers get onto and move across the roof safely?

How will you get materials and tools onto the roof?

Have your workers been trained and, importantly, are they competent to install to the current standards required?

Do you need to work in the roof space? If so how will you check for bare wires, asbestos and vermin, and how will you prevent workers from falling through the ceiling?

Safe Access

The right choice of equipment is essential but with today’s wide range of products on the market, it can often be confusing when selecting the right ones for safe solar installation. 

Traditional scaffolding with toe-boards and ladders are an option but you need to consider the pros and cons before going down this route:

If assembled properly scaffolding can provide a safe solution, but are the users qualified to determine whether the scaffold has been installed correctly?

It can prove cost effective if you are only carrying out a small number of installations per year (say 10), however if you are working on a higher number of properties then scaffolding may not be the most cost effective and or reliable solution for you.

You will need to ensure both the scaffolding and properties are safe ‘out of hours.’

It is aesthetically unattractive for the property owner.

You have no control over when the scaffold can be assembled and disassembled.

You have no control over re-scheduling any works without consulting your scaffold contractor.

Recent years have seen the development of a range of access platform systems such as Easi-Dec, which have been specifically designed with the solar industry in mind.  The benefits of these access platform systems often outweigh the argument for scaffolding.  For example:

They are quick and easy to set up and take down

They can be moved easily to other locations

Cancelled /rescheduled installations can easily be re-programmed.

Costs are kept in-house rather than to sub-contractors.

Standard platforms and walkway components can be combined to provide up to an 8m long safe working platform when required, complete with edge protection.

These systems incorporate an access platform with an integral lifting mechanism for the solar panels.

Working safety

Once on the roof, you will also need to ensure the work can be carried out safely.  Again you have the choice of traditional or bespoke equipment.

You could use standard roof ladders, but these often leave little room between the ladder and roof, making it difficult to install the panels.

Bespoke equipment such as a Solar bridging ladder makes installation easier as well as minimising the risk of damage to the panel or roof.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned working in the actual roof space.  If a loft isn’t permanently boarded there is the problem of how to work safely. The HSE recommends that some form of temporary boarding is used when working in lofts, “a good example is concertina style load bearing safety decking that can be passed up through the loft opening and then can be expanded out when in the loft to extend over the joists.”

Making the most of today’s opportunities

There’s a vast range of equipment available today that has been tailored specifically to the solar industry’s requirements.  By managing and minimising the risks through correct equipment selection, ensuring staff are trained and following best practice, you will be able to provide a safe working environment for your employees and make the most of the current opportunities.