Solar & Safety First: The Warning Signs

Sohrab Hossain

These labels can be found on every Solar Photovoltaic (PV) System, and are used as warnings to protect the public. In the solar industry, safety is paramount. Any mistake, when operating or maintaining solar power, can result in serious injury, so it’s important to understand the dangers and proper safety requirements. Solar energy, a power source that originates from the sun, is not inherently dangerous. However, once it has gone through the “Photovoltaic Effect”, sunlight is converted into electrical energy.This is when proper safety is critical and any interaction should be handled by a professional. The converted electrical energy can pose significant danger if not treated with care. Here are some points on safety to consider:

Module Wiring

The module wires are connected through various components, and carry electrical current with high voltages. Once the modules are exposed to sunlight, the wires are considered “LIVE” and produce electrical energy. Although these wires are protected, there are areas throughout the system where the wires are exposed for connections. Even when the wires are protected, it is always a good precaution to avoid them to prevent any unfortunate circumstances.

System Location

High voltage/current wires are not the only safety consideration. Commercial solar systems are often located on a facility’s roof. Care should be taken near the roofs edge. In addition, the structural supports of a solar system are very heavy and bulky, and if an individual doesn’t see where he/she is going, and falls into the supports, they can obtain serious injuries. OSHA and the NEC provide rules, regulations, and common best practices to ensure worker safety.

Protective Gear

OSHA also recommends the proper gear to wear, or “Personal Protective Equipment” (PPE), when working with solar systems. The equipment ranges from clothing, helmets, electrical gloves (to prevent electrical shock), boots (traction-based to prevent slipping), and other garments to protect an individual from harm. In a typical solar system environment, the appropriate gear to wear is determined by the individual’s nature of work. Installers and maintenance workers need electrical rated gloves, goggles, helmets, long sleeve tops, jeans, boots, and on a steep slope pitched roof, some form of a harness to protect them from falling. For an individual who is only observing the system, and not conducting any tests, the usual PPE may include a helmet, goggles, long sleeve top, jeans, and boots. Having the appropriate PPE equipment ensures a safer environment.

We have all heard the saying “Curiosity killed the cat” and “It is better to be safe than sorry.” Every day the media covers stories about accidents that could have been prevented with proper safety considerations. To prevent any harm to oneself and others, we must be extremely careful when dealing with potential solar hazards. Safety is a general practice that is strongly emphasized in every industry to maintain a steady workflow, and to prevent any injuries or deaths. The solar industry is rapidly growing and will continue to develop best practices to ensure a safe environment. Always use a trained professional when installing, operating or maintaining a solar system. Caution is the key to success.Want to learn more about commercial solar photovoltaic systems? Contact a member of our team today.