The Queensland Government is set to introduce a new code of practice and electrical safety regulations next month to enhance safety in the commercial solar farm industry.
Over the last six months, workplace health and safety and electrical safety inspectors have completed more than 200 audits at solar farms across Queensland and issued 67 statutory for breaches of work health and safety and electrical safety laws.
This included unlicensed electrical work, non-compliant electrical installations and inadequate safe work method statements and emergency plans.
In response to industry concerns, the Queensland Government established a stakeholder steering group to explore and address the issue of unsafe work practices at solar farms and to recommend any necessary changes to ensure the highest standards of safety in the industry.
The new regulations will mean that only licensed electricians can mount, locate, fix or remove solar panels on solar farms with a total rated capacity of at least 100 kilowatts.
Industrial Relations Minister, Grace Grace said the construction and operation of solar farms Code of Practice 2019 and the Electrical Safety (Solar Farms) Amendment Regulation 2019 would become law on 13 May and cover all solar farms in Queensland.
“These new regulations are all about ensuring we keep pace with new and emerging technologies and keep workers safe,” the Minister said.
“But to ensure the safety of these workers, our regulations need to keep pace with these ever-changing technologies.”
Ms Grace explained that stakeholders were particularly concerned about unlicensed workers such as backpackers and labourers mounting and removing live solar panels.
“Solar panels generate power as soon as they are exposed to light and cannot be isolated while they are being mounted,” she said.
“Workers are at risk from electrocution and fires if solar panels are not properly earthed during installation.”
“Removing panels can be even more dangerous. These are not jobs for unlicensed workers,” the Minister stated.
The code of practice identifies risks in the design, construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning of solar farms as well as requirements on how to manage them safely.
Over the past eight months, the steering group has worked with the Office of Industrial Relations to develop the code of practice and necessary regulatory changes.
Broader industry consultation occurred once the draft code was finalised, with most stakeholders supporting the changes.
The organisations consulted about the new code of practice and amended regulations included: Master Electricians, Energy Networks Australia, the Electrical Safety Commissioner, the National Electrical Contractors Association, Powerlink, the Electrical Trades Union, Energy Queensland, the Services Union, Professionals Australia, the Board of Professional Engineers Queensland, the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union, the Clean Energy Council and the Australian Industry Group.
It is important to note that the regulatory changes only affect commercial solar farms and not residential solar installations or other renewable technologies.
Residential solar installations are currently covered by an Australian Standard requiring installation to be undertaken by a small team supervised by a licensed electrician.