The Chicago Occupational Accident Attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers Represent Injured Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Installers
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) installers assemble and maintain systems that generate electricity. The systems are typically installed on commercial and residential rooftops and other structures. According to data maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the numbers of solar photovoltaic installers is expected to grow “by more than 105%" creating more than 12,000 new jobs in the solar panel industry next year.
The installers duties often include measuring, cutting, constructing, and bolting the solar modules to a frame attached to a building or structure using a mount. The employee will also be required to work with minor electrical systems to check solar-generated electrical current. All the work performed must be installed by local, county, state, and federal codes and standards. The worker must be able to understand instructions, schematics and drawings and assembled solar structures, panels and modules.
These workers possess a unique skill set that requires knowing how to safely attach PV modules to the buildings and rooftops, and guarantee that the entire electrical generating system works. These installers have extensive knowledge of how to use mechanical, and electronic tools to install electrical wiring from the panel to the electric box. During the installation process, the worker must solve problems, repair damage systems, troubleshoot issues, and replace malfunctioning parts and components all while handling high-voltage.
Most experienced installers work with the business or residential owner in the designing and planning of the project before it is fitted and mounted. Their job duties include auditing the current electric module and formulating a plan to maximize safety precautions by blending the new photovoltaic system with the existing system. At the beginning of the project, the worker will construct and install the mounting where the solar photovoltaic panels will be attached. The worker must perform their duties using extreme caution due to the excessive weight, cost, and delicacy of each cumbersome glass panel that can weigh 40 pounds or more.
Nearly every solar photovoltaic (PV) installer has experience as an electrician or construction worker. Typically, the installer must work with other contractors including plumbers, electricians, and roofers to complete the solar panel installation. Based on location in the region of the country, a solar photovoltaic installer might be referred to as an installer, electro-mechanical solar technician, PV fabrication testing technician, lead installer, journeyman electrical PV installer and others.
How Solar Panels Work
Installing solar panels on a home or business is a “green" option for generating electricity to eliminate using the electric power grid or in combination with local power typically generated through burning fossil fuels. Photovoltaic panels create solar electricity by capturing energy from the sun that is converted in panels fabricated with polycrystalline silicon, monocrystalline silicon, microcrystalline silicon, copper indium selenide/sulfide, and cadmium telluride.
Once the sun’s rays are captured by the solar panel and generating DC (direct current) electricity, the energy is transported into the electric panel. The electrical current is then converted to AC (alternating current), where it can be used to power the home or building.
Solar Photovoltaic Installer Hazards
Solar energy industry workers are exposed to numerous safety hazards that without protection could cause severe injuries or death. Falling from great height is a specific risk that every installer faces. As the installer attaches panels to the mounting structure, much of the roof surface is no longer available for walking, creating the need to walk closeto or squeeze by roof hatches, skylights, and the edge of the roof system. Without personal fall protection, the installer can easily fall through the roof, open hatch, or down to the ground, causing serious injuries or death.
According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the most common hazards solar photovoltaic installers face every day in the workplace include:
- Electricity-Related Injuries – These types of injuries can involve arc flashes, blast hazards, electrical shock, and electrocution.
- Falls – OSHA rules and regulations mandate that every solar panel installer working at the height of six feet or more must be provided a fall protection system that could include personal fall arrest gear, safety nets system or guardrails. Additional fall hazards include lifting solar panels to the rooftop. The installer should use a swing hoist, ladder hoist, conveyor belt, or truck-mounted crane to avoid a fall by carrying the panel up a ladder.
- Lockout/Tag Out Events – Many workers in the construction and manufacturing industries are educated on specific procedures and practices that safeguard the worker when equipment and machinery are used, maintained or repaired. A standard lockout/tag out procedure prevents serious injuries and fatalities. For the solar photovoltaic installer, the lockout/tag out procedure should assure the employee that they are protected against electrical energy generated by the solar power equipment. According to OSHA, every procedure should include specific requirements like:
- “Only authorized employees may lockout or tag of machines or equipment to perform servicing or maintenance.
- Lockout devices (locks) and tag out devices (tags) shall not be used for any other purposes and must be used only for controlling energy.
- Lockout and tag out devices (locks and tags) must identify the name of the worker applying the device.
- All energy sources of equipment must be identified and isolated.
- … Only the authorized employee who placed the lock and tag must remove his/her lock or tag unless the employer has a specific procedure as outlined in OSHA’s Lockout/Tag out standard."
- Hoist and Crane Accidents – Cranes are often the equipment of choice when installing and maintaining solar panels. However, when they are not used properly or not inspected, injuries and fatalities can occur when the load or crane contacts low-lying electrical powerlines.
- Heat/Cold Stress – Solar Photovoltaic Installers must often work in adverse weather conditions. In the intense heat of the summer months, they are susceptible to heat heatstroke, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and death. Typically, the first symptoms of heatstroke present as signs of confusion, convulsion, loss of consciousness, high body temperature, and a lack of sweating. Heat exhaustion is often presented as a headache, vertigo, nausea, thirst, weakness, and giddiness.
- Failing to Use PPE – Wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment is often a crucial component to maintaining safety on the job site. To maintain safety, the solar photovoltaic installer must assess their surroundings to identify any potential hazard that requires using protective equipment. Any identified hazard might require the use of hardhats, safety glasses, respirators, gloves, and other effective PPE that can protect the employee against injury, illness or death.
- Material Handling Injuries – The heavyweight and sharp edges of solar panels can lead to a variety of work-related injuries including cuts, bruises, scrapes, pulled muscles, burns, strains, sprains, and broken bones.
- Vehicle Accidents – The duties of a solar photovoltaic (PV) installer begin at the company yard where items are loaded onto the vehicle and transported to their destination to be installed on the customer’s roof or mounting system. The installer could be the victim of an accident while running errands or driving to the job site or back to the solar energy company yard.
- Lifting Injuries – The heavyweight and awkward sizes of solar panels make it extremely difficult to lift and carry. Usually, loading and unloading the huge array of solar panels from the delivery truck up to the rooftop can cause serious lifting injuries including pulled muscles, strains, and sprains. Workers are encouraged to follow safety measures including using two individuals to lift every solar panel while wearing gloves.
Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Installers’ Wages
In some areas of the country, including Illinois, solar photovoltaic installers are recognized as electricians or solar PV electricians. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016, data concerning the employment statistics of the previous year, 13,700 Electricians and Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Electricians were working in the Chicago, Naperville and Arlington Heights metropolitan area. On average, Solar photovoltaic (PV) Electricians in northeastern Illinois earn $73,750 every year (mean wage), which is $35.46 per hour. The wage is significantly higher than the national averages. See Chart
PV Installer Fatalities and Serious Injuries
Installing photovoltaic panels on rooftops can be extremely dangerous even under the best ideal working conditions unclear: days. Below is just a small sampling of the fatalities in serious injuries suffered by PV installers that might have been prevented had the worker and their employer taken special effort to ensure the employee safety. These cases include:
- Case 1: Queens, New York – A solar photovoltaic installer died after falling from a two-story roof. In October 2017, a 60-year-old solar energy employee was testing anchors for solar panels when he fell just before noon. Witnesses to the event notice that the worker was not wearing personal fall preventative gear or any other common safety measure. The incident is being investigated by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the New York Building Department.
- Case 2: Northern California – A solar power installer fell to the ground while installing a system on top of a public housing complex in northern California in April 2010. Investigators at the scene determined that the employee was working without any safety barrier or harness that could prevent falling. Instead, the worker fell off the pitched roof three stories before landing on a concrete walkway below. First responders airlifted the injured installer to a local hospital where doctors pronounced him dead from his injuries. OSHA investigators were seeking to fine the solar panel installation company $26,500 in connection with the 30-year-old solar panel installer’s death because they were negligent.
Solar panel installation companies, owners, managers, supervisors, and foremen are encouraged to protect their employees who install and maintain solar panel equipment on elevated surfaces and rooftops. Installing at any height can be a dangerous occupation where a number of factors can compromise safety including a steeply pitched roof, opened hatch, skylight or the roof’s edge. Also, using rooftop walkways, rooftop guardrails, dome covers and skylight screens along with fall arrest products can minimize the potential dangers every solar photovoltaic installer faces each day on the job.
Some injured PV installers have filed claims and lawsuits against their employer for failing to provide their protection while on the job. However, these cases are often extremely complex and require the skills of a reputable personal injury attorney who specializes in occupational injury cases.
Contact Us Today to Get Your Case Started
Our lawyers help injured Solar photovoltaic (PV) installers recover the compensation they are entitled to receive under the IL Worker’s Compensation Act and through civil lawsuits. Call Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers (888-424-5757) now for a Free Case Review.
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