Implementing a Successful Safety Program

Creating and maintaining a safe work environment is a legal mandate, regardless of the size of the company performing the work or the size of the project being built. Compliance requires an effective safety program. Are you working safely? The answer to this important and seemingly simple question is seldom a straightforward “yes” or “no.” One complicating factor is that too often the decision about what constitutes “working safely” is left to a subjective personal assessment of the hazards present, balanced against an individual’s personal comfort level. However, often what feels safe for one person may not feel safe for another.

To ensure worker safety, you need to systematically assess and address hazards by following clearly defined and detailed safety procedures. Objectively evaluating whether you are working safely is no easy task. Inherent in the simple question is a larger question, one that is more complex and nuanced: Are you providing the training, equipment, policies and leadership that your installers need to work safely and in compliance with the law, while ensuring that they follow the policies designed to keep them working at the highest levels of safety?

In this article, I discuss the fundamental elements of a successful safety program for solar installation companies—elements that are essential to keeping your workers safe. I show that creating and maintaining a safe work environment is a deliberate and ongoing process. Implementing a successful safety program requires buy-in from everyone—from the executive team down to the crew on the roof. Program guidelines need to be clearly documented and published. Regular training must be provided. Standards and procedures need to be reviewed and updated frequently. Compliance with established standards needs to be monitored and enforced at all times. The burden of providing the policies, training resources, safety equipment and safety management falls on the employer, while obeying the laws and polices set forth are the workers’ responsibility. Employees and management must work together to keep the workplace safe.

WORKING SAFELY IS THE LAW

Anyone who has installed PV or solar thermal systems is well aware of the many dangers involved. These include working at a height that exposes you to fall hazards, working on electrical circuits with electrocution and arc-flash hazards; working in hot climates in direct sunlight; using power tools and heavy equipment; performing strenuous physical tasks such as heavy lifting; operating motor vehicles; working in confined spaces; and being exposed to respiratory hazards. These and many other activities present direct hazards to installers and other personnel. Hazards are even present in the warehouse or office.

When viewing your company’s myriad daily activities through the microscope of applicable regulations, maintaining a safe environment in which work can be performed with a minimum of interference and expense can seem daunting. Nevertheless, this is a challenge you must meet, regardless of the size of your company or of the projects you build.

The most widespread workplace safety standards are those defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA. Established by the US Congress in 1970 as part of the Department of Labor, OSHA is responsible for creating the laws that govern worker safety for private-sector employees in all 50 states and other US jurisdictions. The General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that employers keep their workplace free of serious, recognized hazards and that employees follow “all rules, regulations and orders issued pursuant to this Act.” The rules designed to protect workers from hazards are described in four OSHA standards: general industry, agriculture, maritime operations and construction. In addition to setting and enforcing safety standards, OSHA’s mission includes training, outreach, education and assistance.

At first glance, the voluminous OSHA standards can seem incomprehensible—nonetheless, you must take the time to understand them. Knowing where to look for the information you need is generally half the battle. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) plan governs about half the US; meanwhile, 25 states have implemented State OSH plans, as shown in Figure 1 (above).

Since OSHA requires states to set job safety and health standards that are at least as effective as comparable federal standards, many states adopt policies that are identical to the federal ones. However, states do have the option to set standards covering hazards not addressed at the federal level or to establish more restrictive rules.

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