Advancing technology and environmental pressures are likely to
significantly increase demand for solar panel installations in Pennsylvania
in the coming decade.
Although our state doesn’t rank in the top league for sunshine in the US,
we have ambitious solar targets to eventually reach at least 10%
penetration of Pennsylvania's energy generation.
Longer term, its full potential could be as high as nearly one third of all
the state's energy requirements.
Earlier this year, Pittsburgh's City Paper, reported that growth
in solar industry jobs here is now outpacing other energy industries. In
fact, while solar industry jobs nationwide fell by 3.2% last year,
Pennsylvania's take-up jumped 10%.
This has resulted in a shortage of skilled labor, which turns out to be
just one of the major business risks now being faced by the industry in our
state. But it's far from the only risk.
How to Identify and Avoid Solar Panel Installation Risks
Traditionally, installing solar panels has been regarded as a fairly
high-risk area of contracting, especially in the residential market and
other construction sectors with pitched roofing.
Installation hazards can include:
Third party manufacturers vary in their quality -- and so do some
subcontractors. The important requirement here is to enshrine your quality
specifications within contracts that meet client requirements and industry
standards, and to ensure suppliers and subcontractors are themselves
adequately insured and indemnified.
A quality control program is also essential for your own protection and
reputation. Even with the highest standards, it' still possible for defects
to slip by without rigorous oversight.
Another hazard is the risk of mold collecting in roofing areas due to panel
leakage, inadequate sealing, or trapped rain. Again, this can be obviated
through quality control inspections.
Bodily Injury and Property Damage:
Trips, slips and falls are a key cause of site injuries, as well as
property damage arising from them. Documented safety training, site
inspections and monitoring, and sanctions against rules disobedience can
play a big part in reducing the number of incidents.
Compliance with industry standards such as the provision of guardrail
systems, safety nets, anchorages and harnesses is vital. For more on this,
It's also important that installers and other ancillary employees wear
appropriate protective clothing where necessary. Regulations require
employers to conduct a personal protective equipment (PPE) assessment and
respond accordingly -- for example with the use of safety glasses, hard
hats, gloves, respirators and so on.
However, these are not by any means the only source of damage or injury.
Panels themselves, although fairly robust, become more vulnerable to damage
while being handled on steep roofs and other difficult to access surfaces,
as well as via crane and hoists. Again, rules for safe handling need to be
A further risk is that a panel may fall and cause damage or injury sometime
after installation. This emphasizes the need for strict quality checks.
However, if panels are dislodged as a result, say, of a windstorm, this
should be a matter for the client's insurance.
Furthermore, as with all electrical contractor work, the risk of shocks,
arc flashes and burns are an everyday hazard. These are covered in OSHA's
29CFR (1910.269) standard which should be scrupulously observed, among
others relating to the electrical industry.
In addition, installation employees and subcontractors are vulnerable to
many of the hazards common to the construction industry -- such as ladder
safety and lifting techniques. A downloadable document produced by the
state of Oregon provides useful guidance on solar panel installation
safety. Find it here:
Equipment and Tools Loss or Damage:
This is a risk that extends across most contracting services. Sanctions may
be necessary against employees and subcontractors who are negligent. Theft
is also a possibility.
Loss of tools or equipment can cause project delays. It's prudent to ensure
equipment is regularly maintained and inspected, and that spares of crucial
items are held in reserve,
Since solar panels are installed outdoors -- whether on a rooftop or on a
solar farm -- workers are subject to the hazards of weather. Depending on
the circumstances, this may involve heat or cold stress or stability risks
These risks can be minimized through a training program and by maintaining
on-site monitoring of employees, looking out specifically for weather
dangers or symptoms of dehydration, heat stroke and extreme cold. For more
information on prevention techniques, review this OSHA document:
We discuss insurance in more detail below. But if you already have solar
contractor insurance coverage, you should spend some time scrutinizing your
This is because exclusions for specific events or hazards are not uncommon
in this insurance sector. For example, some policies exclude loss of tools
and materials onsite. Others exclude damage that may be caused to the
building structure (especially the roof) while the project is underway.
You don’t want to discover this when it's too late! Robertson Insurance and Risk Management specialists will be happy to review your policy and discuss this with you.
Protection: Solar Panel Contractor Insurance in Pennsylvania
Good risk management is key to the avoidance or mitigation of risk in the
solar industry. Insurance protection against many of the risks outlined
here is equally crucial. This can't be stressed enough because even the
most cautious contractor can still encounter some of these hazards.
In addition to what might be regarded as mainstream contractor insurance
such as commercial liability, commercial auto and workers comp, special
coverages can be added as either endorsements or separate policies, or
Performance and surety bonds and certification.
- Extended liability coverage for post-installation incidents.
Employment practices liability insurance (EPLI).
Premises and tools and equipment insurance.
Inventory and materials in transit coverage.
- Mold protection against damage caused by unit leakage.
- Professional liability/errors & omissions (E&O) insurance for
solar systems designers and consultants.
- Coverage for drones used in monitoring, surveying and inspection.
Additional insured coverage.
- Custodial coverage relating to solar panel maintenance services.
- Obstruction of premises supplemental insurance (OOPS) for protection if
an installation accident prevents an owner from accessing and using their
- Umbrella insurance to raise limits on liability coverage. Standard
liability coverage ranges between $1m and $2m. Umbrella insurance can add
up to $5m on top of this.
- Builders risk coverage to protection against business disruption caused
by covered perils.
Why You Need an Expert
Because of the wide scope of risks in the solar panel contracting business
-- and the insurances that counter them -- it's important to discuss your
specific activities with a knowledgeable agent.
A good agent should also be able to offer advice on how to minimize
premiums, for example through implementing an advanced training and safety
program and by having relevant industry certification.
They can also tell you which optional coverages you might also need.
In addition to advising you on these coverages, Robertson Insurance can
provide guidance on solar contracting risk management, employee safety and
If you'd like to know more or to discuss these issues, please get in touch,