Australia: Don't get burnt: work health and safety considerations for the solar industry

Focus: Work health and safety issues for solar panel importers, suppliers and installers
Services: Commercial, Employee & Industrial Relations, Property & Projects
Industry Focus: Energy, Resources & Infrastructure, Property

The growth of the solar photo-voltaic (PV) panel industry in recent years has brought to light issues relating to safety for importers, suppliers and installers of solar panels.

Under harmonised work health & safety legislation1, persons conducting a business or undertaking (also known as 'PCBUs') have non-delegable duties for work health & safety (WHS). These duties require PCBUs to eliminate or minimise risks as far as reasonably practicable.

Officers2 of a PC '

A PCBU that imports plant, structures or substances that are to be used at a workplace must ensure that the design, manufacture, import or supply is without risk to the health and safety of persons at that workplace. Practically, this means that importers and suppliers of solar PV systems should be providing their customers and any installers with information on the safe use and installation of their products.

It will not be enough to demonstrate due diligence by simply relying on compliance with applicable Australian Standards (such as AS/NZS 5033 - see below). Exercising due diligence and discharging the onerous obligations involves providing any relevant information to installers or customers and not relying on any assumed knowledge.


Installers of solar panels must ensure that the installation or construction of a solar PV system at a workplace is also free from risks to the health and safety of a person. At a minimum, compliance with the codes of practice for working at heights, manual handling and falling objects should be a priority.

Codes and relevant standards relating to electrical installation should be considered. Likewise, the physical environment and the prevailing climatic conditions will also be important factors in minimising the risk of an incident at a workplace.

Key considerations

Installers of solar panels should be performing detailed risk assessments of their workplaces before commencing work. Documented procedures and relevant policies will be necessary to show that a PCBU has complied with their duties of due diligence.

For a supplier, simply subcontracting with an appropriately qualified installer will not remove liability. Entities with upstream duties may also be found liable for breaches of WHS legislation where their subcontractors have failed to adequately train their workers and ensure that risks are minimised as far as reasonably practicable.

Demonstrating due diligence requires more than an officer simply relying upon the assurances of their subcontractor.

PCBUs who contract with installers should have detailed safety management and risk assessment systems in place. There should also be a system for auditing the WHS procedures of contractors. Failure to do so may expose both the PCBU and the officers of the PCBU to liability for any failures of their subcontractor.

Failure by a PCBU to ensure a safe workplace can result in penalties of up to $3,000,000. Failure by an officer to exercise due diligence can lead to personal liability for penalties of up to $600,000 or five years imprisonment. Therefore, if you have any concerns about your WHS duties, you should seek legal advice.

What about complying with AS/NZS 5033?

If a solar installation does not comply with Clean Energy Council (CEC) guidelines and Australian Standards (including AS/NZS 5033), it may be ineligible for inclusion on the Clean Energy Council approved list of modules for buildings.

As recently advised by the Clean Energy Regulator, important changes to the Australian Standards and CEC guidelines for solar PV installations come into effect on 16 July 2013.

Any systems that do not comply with the amended Standards and CEC guidelines after 16 July will not be eligible under the Renewable Energy Target and small-scale technology certificates (STCs) will not be created against them. From 16 July 2013, all solar PV systems that are to be installed to a fixed structure, such as a building, will need to update the testing and certification for the system to meet the new standards.

The REC Registry will also be updated to reflect the requirement for building mounted installations to be fire tested. Specifically, if solar panels are going to be part of a building mounted installation, the system must be fire tested to meet the new requirements.


1Harmonised work health & safety legislation comprising mirrored acts and regulations have been enacted by the Commonwealth and all state and territory jurisdictions excluding Western Australia and Victoria.

2As defined in section 9 of the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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