Installing solar panels safely

Date published: 20 May 2014

Roof work is dangerous

Working on a roof can be dangerous - falls account for more deaths and serious injuries in construction than any other cause.

Roof work must be properly planned and appropriate safety equipment and training provided. 

The risks are substantial, however long or short the work and high safety standards are essential at all times.

Planning the work

The specific work must be planned to identify the hazards of the particular site and decide what precautions should be taken. Please consider the following points:

  • solar panel installation is not short duration work and will need scaffolding or similar equipment
  • can the roof structure safely take the weight of the panels as well as equipment and workers needed during the installation?
  • are there any fragile elements in the roof (such as fibre cement sheets, sky-lights or glazing)?
  • are there any overhead power lines near the work area?
  • how can workers get on to and across the roof and off again?
  • will you be working on one or more sides of the roof?
  • how will materials and tools be taken up and distributed across the roof?
  • have the workers had suitable training and are they competent?
  • how will workers be prevented from falling off the roof?
  • will you need to work in the roof space? If so, how are you going to access it, check for bare wires, asbestos and vermin?
  • how will you prevent falls through the ceiling?
  • where MEWP access is possible, then for one or two panel jobs, working from within a boom lift (harnessed in) may be feasible
  • you should prevent or minimise  lone working at height

Protecting others

Solar panel installation is not short duration work and will need scaffolding or similar equipment.It should have a boarded working platform and full edge protection (double guard-rails and toe-boards) to stop people and tools from falling.

Debris netting may also be necessary to prevent materials from falling on householders or neighbours.

  • agree and maintain a safe access route for the occupier/owner
  • keep people away from the area below the work and remember to make the work areas child safe at the end of the working day - such as by removing or blocking ladders

Falls - additional measures

Edge protection should be provided along the eaves of the roof slope on which the work is being done - it should extend two metres on each side beyond the area of work - if two metres is not available (because the panel array is close to the gable end), gable end protection should be provided

Scaffolding should only be erected, altered or dismantled by a trained and competent scaffolder. It should be inspected before first use, and then weekly and after anything that might have affected its safety (such as high winds)

No-one should stand directly on unprotected fragile roof surfaces (such as roof lights or fibre cement sheeted roofs), or work within two metres of them, unless barriers are provided to prevent access to the fragile area

Smaller fragile elements (such as roof lights) should be protected by barriers or secure covers - for large areas, safety nets placed close underneath the roof should be used along with a means of gaining access over the roof (such as staging)

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