Emphasizing permit processes for solar industry

Emphasizing permit processes for solar industry

Solar industry, like any other industry, requires more than just the knowledge of safety rules- – what it needs is the ability to evaluate critical situations that can hamper safe work practices. Crews face conditions similar to the typical construction trades with notable exceptions that underscore the nature of both solar electric and hot water equipment – exposure to sunlight that creates stored energy isn’t a part in other industries. Managing this energy safely, therefore becomes imperative.

Personnel in the solar industry work with power tools and power chords, with ladders to access equipment and rooftops, in hot weather conditions, solar hot water collector panels, with electric photovoltaic panels – after understanding hazards, potential injuries and likelihood of incidents, are the permit steps assigned. While dealing with each task, there are SOPs and to follow them, undertaking permits are a must.

Depending on the gravity of the tasks, hot work, cold work, isolation, confined space and special permits (dangerous chemicals and power supplies) are issued. A novel way of creating awareness of such permits in solar processes is animation.

Animation is effective in accessing the inaccessible – be it internal working mechanisms of the machineries or the work processes. By offering valuable insights into operational and human element gaps (especially in permits), they strive to deliver the objectives of permit trainings in easy and interesting ways.

Take the case of testing photovoltaic systems for ground faults. After recording and confirming that the information on inverter display is indicative of a ground fault, power sources to the faulty line are disconnected, all Lock-out Tagout procedures are applied, there are electrical isolations. A case as simple as this requires intimidating the workforce involved, since any careless behaviour can result in a hazard. Here, permits play a crucial role.

Behavioural challenges

For a solar workplace, animation for permit to work processes is the first step to proactive approach in safety.

Because even though the hazards and examples above convey the need of permits, its execution faces challenges in terms of approach. Permit issuers are burdened by distractions that impact the speedy execution and sign off of the permits. It takes a lot of discipline to halt work in the face of small but seemingly inconsequential gap in the permit processes. Safety gets compromised based on assumptions. This, in turn, have an adverse impact on the outside contractors involved – they further tend to have a compromising nature for the environment they are exposed in.

Safety animation is effective in conveying messages – it can create a mirror of people’s behaviour and generate a ‘that could have been me’ response. Focus lies on ‘behaviour immersion’, where they can –

  • Focus on roles and responsibilities of people in the value chain

  • Bring permit to work into open discussions

  • Highlight life-threatening impacts of non-conformance

  • Create resonance where behavioral failings loomed

  • Craft an EQ/IQ participative learning experience

Safe installations, testing and maintenance need genuine efforts from the workforce of the challenging solar workspace – right from managers, supervisors to the workers and technicians. Animation trainings are interventions needed which depict that although their jobs are of little time and many demands, shortcuts, assumptions around communication and signatures of approval without due diligence are indeed, a perfect recipe for disaster.

Image courtesy: U.S. Department of Energy, original photo can be found here photostream on Flickr – under title, Solar Testing Facility, accessed on 22-Feb-2020 – image resized.

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