The demand for solar energy continues to grow, increasing demand for companies providing every aspect of the service. As teams continue to grow to meet the demands of customers, it is critical to ensure the workforce remains safe and protected throughout the process. Improving safety in solar energy workplaces takes considerable effort, but specialized workwear and uniforms should not be overlooked in the process.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks a wide range of careers in the solar energy industry, including solar installers — a job category that is expected to grow 22% between 2022 and 2032. That means onboarding a lot of new individuals to maintain these positions.
With that comes inexperience and a higher risk of injury. Some of the risks to solar workers involved with manufacturing and installation include:
Equipment failures and malfunctions: Like any other industry, there is a risk of electrocution and burns as a result of equipment failures at all ends of the solar industry.
Personal protective equipment failures: Many working within this industry, especially in manufacturing, must have proper personal protective equipment at the workplace. This includes footwear, ear and eye protection and gloves.
Education: Another key factor that contributes to many of the injuries reported in solar is a lack of proper training and education. This increases the risk of mistakes with equipment, falls, failure to use safety protections and thermal burns.
Among the most common hazards in the solar work environment, as noted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), are electric shock, falls from heights, arc flash burns, arc blast burns and thermal burn hazards. These risks can cause injury or death. Protecting workers from these risks or minimizing them as much as possible is critical.
The crucial role of specialized workwear in solar energy work
One of the most important steps employers and safety managers can take is to fully embrace the importance of proper personal protective equipment for employees. With this type of equipment, minimizing the risk of burns is possible, which is especially important. However, specialized safety workwear can accomplish much more, including ensuring workers maintain efficiency while still reducing the risk of electrical hazards, some of the most common causes of injury.
OSHA notes that all solar energy workers (from those in manufacturing up to the installer) must have the right type of personal protective equipment, including safety glasses, hard hats, gloves, respirators, hearing protection, safety shoes and close-fitting and reflective clothing.
Choosing the right gear: Factors to consider in solar workwear selection
Though the solar energy field is growing so quickly, finding available workforce clothing and protective workwear designed specifically for the risks in this field is challenging. All protective gear needs to meet specific objectives, including:
- It must be designed for the work environment based on worker needs. Some solar workplaces are outdoors, while others are in a manufacturing facility.
- Selection should be based on the specific risks that the employee has. For example, some workplace gear can be designed to minimize the risk of burns for installers. Other equipment needs to be protective of high-heat situations or be designed to minimize the risk of electric shock.
- Employees also need breathable workwear, meaning it needs to be comfortable to wear in sometimes-hot environments.
- Another core factor in selecting personal protective equipment for solar injury is ensuring it is rated for the right arc risk. Flame-resistant and arc-rated equipment ensures ample protection for workers. Select the appropriate arc rating based on the work of the employee.
Common challenges faced in selecting workwear
There are challenges to investing in workwear for the solar energy workplace. Specifically, there are not many providers that offer highly specialized products. Yet, this is critical. Purchasing flame-resistant equipment is only one step. Choosing arc-rated protections designed for specific workplace risks takes a company that specializes in these products.
Workers in this industry are exposed to a wide range of serious hazards. While arc flashes are the most common, other risks, like falls and electric shock, are concerns. Clothing designed for this environment, then, must be designed to fit the worker’s specific needs.
Also important is that most companies in the solar field, including installers and manufacturers, are required to meet the electric power generation, transmission, and distribution standards set by OSHA. This means they must also put in place work practices that include ensuring workers receive proper and full training on the importance of wearing protective clothing properly.
Empowering solar workers through safety-oriented workwear
The investment in proper safety workwear within the solar energy industry is critical. Not only does it minimize risk to the company by reducing liability losses, but it also can save lives. Properly purchased, effectively used solar workplace safety workwear is one of the most important investments organizations can make today to protect their growing workforce as the industry continues to expand and new employees, often lacking ample training, come on board.
Nick Warrick is the Sales Manager at All Seasons Uniforms. With over 15 years of experience in the work uniform business, he has worked with over 100 clients across 20 different industries. Holding bachelor’s degrees in both Business Administration and Information Technology, Warrick revamped the company’s online presence, offering its customers a new uniform shopping experience.