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
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
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.
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
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
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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3.Courts are imposing larger fines and compensation for non-economic loss for contraventions of the Fair Work Act.
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