New safety code to make Queensland solar farm jobs safer
Published Tuesday, 09 April, 2019 at 04:10 PM
Minister for Education and Minister for Industrial Relations
The Honourable Grace Grace
Safety has been put first when it comes to Queensland’s booming renewables industry.
A new code of practice and electrical safety regulations will be put in place next month to enhance safety in the growing commercial solar farm industry.
The new regulations mean only licensed electricians can mount, locate, fix or remove solar panels on solar farms with a total rated capacity of at least 100kW.
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 Queensland solar farms.
“The Palaszczuk Government is committed to achieving 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030,” Ms Grace said.
“As a result, we’ve seen unprecedented growth in the number of commercial solar farms in Queensland and that means jobs for installers.
“These new regulations are all about ensuring we keep pace with new and emerging technologies and keep workers safe.
“But to ensure the safety of these workers, our regulations need to keep pace with these ever-changing technologies.
Ms Grace said stakeholders were 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.
“Introducing the new regulation achieves the right balance between our renewable energy target and ensuring worker and community safety,” Ms Grace said.
Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Dr Anthony Lynham, said Queensland remained firmly on track to achieve its target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
“Based on strong growth of renewable energy in the state it is estimated Queensland will reach 20 per cent by 2020.
“We already have more than $5b in operational, committed or underway projects, creating more than 4600 jobs.
“The new code and regulations can only enhance the industry - ensuring the safety of workers and the highest safety standards.’’
Electrical Safety Commissioner Greg Skyring said health and safety was the key priority for the electrical industry.
“The new code of practice and regulations will provide guidance and clarity for solar farm developers, owner and contractors when it comes to their electrical safety duties,” Mr Skyring said.
Master Electricians Chief Executive Officer Malcom Richards also welcomed the changes.
“The new Solar Farm Code of Practice and regulations ensure Queensland keeps pace with the fast-moving renewable energy industry. We welcome these changes which will ensure safety for workers, consumers and the energy industry,” Mr Richards said.
National Electrical and Communications Association Executive Director Peter Lamont said the changes would make the solar industry safer.
“The mounting, locating, fixing, earthing and removing of solar panels at solar farms is dangerous work and it should not be undertaken by unlicensed workers. We fully support the new changes,” Mr Lamont said.
More details about the new code of practice and electrical safety regulations is available by visiting electricalsafety.qld.gov.au.
In response to industry concerns, the Palaszczuk Government established a stakeholder steering group to explore and address the issue of unsafe work practices at solar farms and to recommend changes necessary to ensure the highest standards of safety in this new and emerging industry.
Over the past eight months the steering group has worked with the Office of Industrial Relations to develop the code of practice and necessary regulation changes. Broader industry consultation occurred once the draft code was finalised, with the majority of stakeholders supporting the changes.
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.
It also provides clarity on what is, and is not, electrical work that must be performed by licensed electricians.
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.
Over the last six months, work health and safety and electrical safety inspectors have completed more than 200 audits at solar farms across the state and issued 67 statutory for breaches of work health and safety and electrical safety laws. This includes unlicensed electrical work, non-compliant electrical installations and inadequate safe work method statements and emergency plans.
The regulatory changes only affect commercial solar farms and not residential solar installations or other renewable technologies. Residential solar installations are covered by an Australian Standard requiring installation to be undertaken by a small team supervised by a licensed electrician.
Media contacts: Minister Grace’s office – 0439 578 472
Minister Lynham’s office – 0439 341 314