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Cal/OSHA fines solar energy company following worker's fatal fall (10/13)

October 13, 2010

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) is seeking $26,500 in fines against SolarCity, the employer of a 30-year-old solar panel installer who fell to his death from a rooftop solar power installation on a Northern California public housing complex, according to the blog FairWarning.

The company has been cited by the state agency for one “serious” violation of failing to ensure that employees used fall-protection gear.

SolarCity was also cited for two “general” violations. According to agency inspectors, the company failed to train supervisors on the safety and health hazards faced by workers at the site and did not provide Cal/OSHA with records demonstrating that any fall-protection program was carried out.

Says FairWarning: “The potential safety hazards in installing solar equipment are important because the field is widely touted as a potential boom industry that could produce an abundance of carbon-free energy and well-paying “green jobs.” It also has benefited from billions of dollars in state and federal tax credits and grants, especially through the stimulus plan passed by Congress last year.”

While employment in most economic sectors continues to sputter nationwide, the solar industry added 10,000 new jobs last year, according to the trade group Solar Energy Industries Association.

Installing solar panels combines three of the most injury-prone jobs — roofing, carpentry and electrical work — making it particularly risky, safety experts say, according to FairWarning. At the same time, there are no federal or California workplace safety rules — and few, if any, rules in other states — that specifically apply to solar installers. As a result, companies deal with a hodgepodge of regulations.

Two employees who spoke with FairWarning said safety gear has been required on all jobs since the accident.