Health and Safety in solar – selecting a safe installer

What are your Health and Safety responsibilities when selecting a solar installer?

Every employer and employee has a duty to ensure adequate steps are taken to adhere to Health and Safety standards, to minimise the risk from potential hazards in the workplace and maintain a safe work environment. As a business it is vital that you do not forget that these Health and Safety responsibilities also extend to contractors you may be considering for any kind of work, including the installation of renewable energy systems.

What’s more, if you ask a contractor to carry out any construction work that requires more than five people on site, lasts longer than 30 days or involves more than 500 person-days of work, then you must also comply with CDM (Construction Design & Management) Regulations 2007.

Under Health and Safety law both you and the contractor you use have responsibilities to take the right precautions to reduce the risks of workplace dangers to employees and the public.

 

You have a duty to:

1. Select a suitable contractor who is competent to complete the work
2. Assess the risk of the work and appropriate measures to reduce risk
3. Provide health and safety information to the contractor
4. Coordinate with the contractor about health and safety
5. Consult the workforce about health and safety
6. Manage and supervise the contractor’s work

The HSE have a brief guide to using contractors that makes a useful starting point and there is also further guidance for complying with the CDM regulations on the HSE website.

Selecting a contractor - useful pointers for solar PV

It is your responsibility to identify the risks associated with the project and select a suitable contractor that can do the job safely. This means you will need to check the competence of the contractor by asking relevant questions about their management arrangements. You may want to ask about whether or not they intend to use subcontractors (and if so how they assess their subcontractor’s competence), whether they have a written Health and Safety Policy (only a requirement if five or more people are employed), what their Health and Safety performance is like, what skills, qualifications and experience they have in this type of work, what health and safety training they provide for workers, example risk assessments and what level of Employer’s Liability insurance they hold (if required).

The installation of solar PV is considered high risk, especially where mounted to a building roof. There are an unusual combination of risks and hazards to consider from electric shock, manual handling and work at height. Many roofers will be accustomed to dealing with the risks from work at height and manual handling but may not be used to dealing with the risk of electric shock. The converse is true for electricians who may not be familiar with the dangers of work at height.

It has been shown in HSE statistics that a large number of deaths that occur through roof work are often plumbers and electricians who are unfamiliar with working at height. INDG401 the guide to roof work states what is expected of employers and contractors and is a useful guide to what you need to do to comply with the law. In general, where a roof is fragile (e.g. from a presence of asbestos or roof lights) then collective measures such as safety netting and crawl boards are suitable. However, crawl boards on their own, even with safety lines and harnesses, are not considered a correct method for solar panel installation.

In addition to these common hazards, your particular project may present a range of site-specific hazards and risks from asbestos, structural requirements, effect of wind lift on the panels, roof strength, ventilation, cables, fire risk and access. This is why it is vital you select a competent installer and complete the procedures recommended by the HSE for every project.

GMI has longstanding construction experience and in-house roof and electrical experts, which means we can provide robust safety systems that satisfy the most complex projects. We also have our own dedicated safety manager who ensures our safe systems of work comply with our ISO standards and BSOHSAS 18001 standard.

Our installer questionnaire and installer checklist offers useful guidance for selecting a suitable installer but here are some of the key competencies you should look out for:

  • Qualifications / accreditation – MCS accredited, NICEIC, CSCS, Achilles or BSOHSAS 18001 Health and Safety accreditation
  • Experience – this may seem like an obvious point but you need to check that your chosen installer has successfully completed similar projects to yours. As previously discussed a PV project may present a wide range of hazards so ideally your chosen contractor should have a suitable construction background that enables them to identify and minimise those risks.
  • Insurances – the minimum level of insurance required will depend on the scale of activity involved in your project. For large-scale installations it is advisable to request a suitable level of Professional Indemnity, Employer’s Liability and Public Liability insurance cover up to £10 million.
  • Risk assessment – ask to see an example risk assessment and check that hazards have been identified, control measures have been put in place and residual risks are identified.