Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy in Industrial and Systems Engineering
Mechanical, Industrial and Systems Engineering
Gretchen A. Macht
The demand for renewable energy resources has experienced significant growth over the past decade. Consequently, the solar installation workforce is growing rapidly to meet this need. The occupational safety risks associated with installations are an obstacle to the safety and well-being of solar installation workers. Although photovoltaic (PV) installers are known to experience some of the most significant and widespread construction-related occupational safety risks, PV installer accident investigation research, reporting, and verification are limited.
To contribute to this literature gap, this dissertation presents a systematic literature review of the occupational safety risks, mitigation measures, and current and potential safety research areas associated with PV installations. This dissertation also presents a survey study developed and administered to solar workers to understand their perceptions regarding a comprehensive list of installation safety risks (15 items). This dissertation explores how factors such as work experience, company longevity, and installation size influence the risk perception of solar workers. This dissertation also utilizes a Risk Significance Score (RSS) to rank the relative importance of safety risks to installers in the residential and meso or commercial setting. Then, based on the RSS this dissertation provides risk management recommendations to enhance the safety of installation work.
The findings of the systematic literature review in the Manuscript 1 and 2, show that the four major occupational safety risk categories associated with PV installations are: (1) electrical and fire risks, (2) heat stress, (3) manual handling risks, and (4) fall risks. Most of the available solar safety research focuses on electrical and fire safety. Fewer papers conducted risk mitigation research on fall accidents, manual handling risks, and heat stress within the solar industry in detail. Within the sphere of manual handling, installers are exposed to musculoskeletal disorder risks, which is a relatively unexplored solar safety research area.
The findings from the safety risk perception survey study (n = 290) in Manuscript 3, revealed three types of solar installation workers based on risk perception (High, Moderate, and Low), with most installers having a Moderate perception of the Likelihood (ɣ = 77.38%) and Severity (ɣ = 76.22%) of safety risks. The proportion of membership in the High Likelihood/Severity class increased substantially as installation size decreased to residential and as company longevity and work experience increased. Manuscript 3 recommends a higher emphasis on safety during mentorship/apprenticeship programs, more exchange of safety knowledge between newer and more established solar companies, and a greater emphasis on safety education/certification especially for residential installers.
In Manuscript 4, the RSS resulting values were generally close to 0.30, suggesting that solar installation workers perceived the safety risks as manageable. Heat-related risks, falling from heights, and glare were the top concerns associated with residential work. Whereas, heat-related risks, along with struck-by-falling objects, and falling, slipping, or tripping, were the top concerns for meso or commercial work. Consequently, safety measures and training that should be prioritized for both residential and meso or commercial installations include work-rest schedules, early detection of heat-related illness, fall hazard identification, fall protection systems, electric shock and burn mitigation and clothing, and an organized site layout. This research can aid solar installation companies, occupational safety professionals, and policy makers in understanding the safety risks and mitigation measures associated with PV installations. Moreover, this research clarifies the installers’ risk perceptions, identifies areas where risk mitigation is needed, and provides valuable recommendations to enhance worker safety.
Duroha, Jesse, "SUSTAINABLE ERGONOMICS FOR SOLAR INSTALLATIONS" (2023). Open Access Dissertations. Paper 1592.