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The Middle East is a region with abundant sunlight, making it an ideal location to produce solar energy. Several countries in the region, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, have already invested heavily in solar energy projects.
Saudi Arabia, for example, has set ambitious targets for renewable energy, with a goal of generating 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The country is currently constructing a massive solar plant in the Al-Jouf region.
The UAE is home to the world's largest single-site solar project, the Noor Abu Dhabi solar plant.
However, solar installation and maintenance work involve a range of tasks that may expose workers to many working-at-height hazards.
Falls from heights are one of the leading causes of occupational injuries and fatalities worldwide and this is also true for those who install solar systems. The following are some potential fall hazards related to Solar Installation and Maintenance:
The consequences of a fall during the installation of solar systems can be severe and include the following:
To prevent falls during solar system installation, it is important to follow proper work-at-height safety procedures, use appropriate personal protective equipment, and ensure that all equipment is in good working order. Proper training for solar system installers can also help reduce the risk of falls and other accidents.
Using a compliant fall protection system is essential to protect workers from falls and prevent serious injuries or fatalities.
A compliant fall protection system provides a safe working environment by reducing the risk of falls from heights. It helps workers confidently perform their tasks, knowing they are protected against the risk of falling.
Compliance with fall protection regulations is also important for employers to avoid legal and financial consequences. Occupational health and safety regulations require employers to provide a safe work environment and to implement suitable fall protection measures when working at heights.
The Hierarchy of Control is an effective tool for managing risks in the workplace, including fall protection. It is a set of measures that are implemented in a specific order to eliminate or minimize risks.
The below control measures are in accordance with the Hierarchy of Controls for working at height:
Collective fall protection is a system designed with the intention to prevent workers from reaching a fall hazard. Unlike personal fall protection, which is designed to protect an individual worker, collective fall protection is designed to protect multiple workers at once.
There are several types of collective fall protection systems, including guardrails and guarded platforms.
Rooftop guardrails are barriers that are installed around the perimeter of a work area to prevent falls and are an important safety feature that can prevent falls from rooftops, terraces, and other elevated areas.
Rooftop guardrails must comply with various International standards to ensure their effectiveness and safety. Some of the standards that rooftop guardrails need to comply with include:
Guarded platforms are elevated structures that are designed to provide a safe and secure working surface for workers who need to perform tasks at height. They are equipped with guardrails or other forms of edge protection to prevent falls and protect workers from injury.
Guarded platforms should comply with several international standards to ensure their safety and effectiveness. One of the most relevant standards for guarded platforms followed in the Middle East region is:
There are several types of guarded platforms that can be used for solar maintenance. The type of guarded platform that is best suited for a particular job will depend on several factors, including the height of the solar panels, the layout of the installation, and the specific maintenance tasks that need to be performed.
Fragile roof fall protection refers to measures taken to prevent workers from falling through or off of a fragile roof during Solar Installation or maintenance work. Fragile roofs are those that are not designed to support heavy loads or foot traffic.
Collective Protection is a preferred method of protection as they have the benefits of not being reliant on correct usage, minimal training requirements, and a compliant collective protection system will need very little maintenance when installed by a competent and certified installer.
Making sure that the collective protection used at the worksite is compliant with international standards that are followed in the particular region is very important. This will not only protect the workers from a serious fall hazard, but also protects the employer from legal consequences that may follow if an unfortunate accident occurs.
Where collective protection does not apply, personal fall protection systems could be applicable.
A Horizontal lifeline is a safety system that is installed horizontally and provides a secure anchor point for a worker's safety harness. It typically consists of a cable or rope that is secured to two anchor points and provides a continuous attachment point for a worker's personal fall arrest system.
When installing or maintaining solar panels, workers may need to move around the roof, which increases the risk of falling. By using a horizontal lifeline system, workers can attach themselves to the lifeline and move along the roof safely, reducing the risk of falls and other accidents.
It is important that the system is designed, installed, and used under the supervision of a qualified person as part of a complete personal fall arrest system with at least a safety factor of two. They should also be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure their safety and effectiveness.
Horizontal Lifelines must be compliant with the following international standards:
The anchorage is the key part of any system. Designers must utilise their experience and competency when choosing an anchor used for Fall Protection and Rope Access methods. As part of the company and designers’ due diligence, the test methods must be incorporated in to specific O&M manuals. These type of testing methods will differ from project to project and product to product.
Other factors to take into consideration are:
The designer also needs to consider what the system will be used for:
Installation should comply with the recommendations of BS EN 795 and BS 7883.
Ideally, installation should be carried out by a qualified engineer who is able to ensure that the building’s structure is of sufficient capacity to be able to sustain the likely loads imposed when the anchorage point is in use.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is essential for fall protection when installing and maintaining solar panels. As working at heights increases the risk of falls and the potential for serious injury or even death, PPE is a critical tool that can help protect workers from these work-at-height hazards.
There are many reasons why PPE is important for fall protection when installing and maintaining solar panels.
Overall, it is essential to provide workers with adequate training, supervision, appropriate Collective Protection and Personal Protective Equipment to reduce the working at height hazards associated with solar panel installation and maintenance. Regular inspection and maintenance of equipment and systems can also help identify and address potential hazards before they become a problem.
Even though the fundamentals are similar, fall protection standards can vary across different countries and regions. While there are some common principles and best practices for fall protection that are widely accepted, the specific standards and regulations governing fall protection can differ based on factors such as local laws and industry-specific requirements.
It is important to research or consult an industry expert to understand the specific fall protection standards that apply to your industry and location to ensure compliance and promote worker safety.
By following proper safety protocols, solar systems can continue to provide a safe and sustainable energy source for years to come.