What Does OSHA Require for Solar Roof Installer Safety?

Residential Solar Panels Image by skeeze from Pixabay
Image by skeeze from Pixabay

For electrical contractors involved in solar roof installations who think that the same Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety requirements apply to their workers that apply to roofers, a recent court ruling may come as a surprise.

A California-based electrical contractor was working on a rooftop solar installation and assumed its workers were expected to comply with OSHA fall protection standards for roofers instead of the more stringent standards required for other types of work performed on roofs. The company found out otherwise.

In the case, the EC petitioned the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to review an earlier decision by the Occupational Safety and Review Commission, which had upheld the citation OSHA had given the contractor for violating fall protection standards. The three-judge panel unanimously denied the petition.

In early 2016, the Los Angeles-based EC was installing solar panels on the roof of a Marine Corps air station hangar, using warning lines and a safety monitor to comply with what they thought were OSHA's fall protection requirements. The contractor said the workers would have also been required to use personal fall arrest systems but only if they had been required to work outside of the warning lines.

During a two-day OSHA inspection, the inspector reported observing no employees using personal fall arrest systems and saw no guardrails or safety nets in place, which were requirements at all times in an OSHA standard that applied to "unprotected sides and edges at elevations.”

The inspector issued a citation to the contractor for failing to follow the requirements of this more rigorous standard, and the court agreed that this more rigorous standard did apply in the installation of solar panels, noting that nowhere in OSHA literature is the "installation of solar panels" referenced in OSHA's definition of "roofing work."

The court further elaborated that OSHA's language makes it clear that "roofing work" does not extend to all materials and equipment that could be applied to roofs, but only to roofing materials and equipment in specific.

The message for electrical contractors involved in rooftop solar work: It would be a good idea to check with your company's safety manager and/or local OSHA office to clarify OSHA's safety requirements for your workers while they are engaged in rooftop solar installations, and any other projects that involve working on roofs, for that matter.

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