Safe Work Australia are a goverment-associated health and safety body.  In January 2016, they issued a revised version of their working at height guidance.  In this document, work around solar panels is specifically mentioned twice.

safe work australia logo

The document flags several working at height issues.  ALL listed pertain to solar panel cleaning.  They are:

  • Working at height
  • Roof access
  • Fragile roofs
  • Electricity
  • Manual tasks
  • Falling objects
  • Exposure to heat and sunlight

What Is Classified As ‘High Risk’ Work On A Roof In Australia?

Work on roofs involving solar that is considered ‘high risk’ involves:

  • A person falling fruther than 2 metres.  In South Australia only, the fall height limit for high risk work is 3 metres.
  • Work carried out on or near energised electrical installations or services.

The wording in the document around working at height risk is very straightforward.  “You must eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable, even if the roof work only takes a few minutes.

The document mentions solar panels for the second time in the section about ‘Falls‘:  “Workers such as electricians, plumbers….installers of solar panels…can trip and fall on roofs, through roofs and openings or while accessing or exiting roof areas.”

What Is Acceptable Risk Of Fall Management For Solar Panel Cleaning & Maintenance?

Providing guidance on risk of fall management, Safe Work Australia write:  “The risk of falls must be managed using the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable, in accordance with the hierarchy of controls.”

The first form of allowable safe system of work, in other words, the first and preferable choices of safe access, are fall prevention devices.  These include scaffolding or elevating work platforms (EWPs).  These are classified as reasonably practicable.

If fall prevention devices are not reasonably practicable, the next stage of risk reduction is work positioning systems.  These include travel restraints that are designed to prevent workers reaching a roof edge.

If work positioning systems are not reasonably practicable, the third option is to use fall arrest systems.  These would include harness and lanyard systems, anchor points and safety nets.

According to Safe Work Australia, minor roof tasks of less than 2 hours can be carried out on a single storey roof where the roof is flat or almost flat (this is classed as less than 10 degrees in other countries than Australia), non-slippery, workers remain more than a 2 metre distance from all exposed edges of a roof, then ladder access may be sufficient to minimise the risk of a fall.

How Do These Guidelines Apply Specifically To Solar Panel Cleaning & Maintenance In Australia?

How can a roof be assessed for it’s slope?  ISCA recommend the use of free downloadable apps that use your phone as a spirit level, telling you the pitch of a roof.  Even a single-storey roof of 11 degrees would not be classified as safe to work on without fall prevention devices or work positioning systems.

Bird proofing around a solar array is highly likely to take longer than two hours.  In this case, fall prevention measures should be put in place to prevent a fall.

Any solar cleaning or maintenance work on any 2-storey property, or on any roof that is not almost flat, or that will expose a worker to work less than 2 metres from a roof edge or that takes longer than 2 hours, should not be carried out from ladders and without fall protection measures in place.

fall from height infographic

Other Working At Height Considerations For Solar Panel Cleaning & Maintenance

According to the safety document, anyone using a harness and lanyard exposes themselves to additional trip hazards.  “Training should include how to rescue someone who falls whilst using a fall arrest system.”  This may take the form of rope rescue training.

Under the section ‘Electricity‘, the document states:  “Working on roofs and near electricity is a major risk…Conductive material such as guttering can become live if they come close enough or in contact with faulty electrical wiring in the vicinity.”  This is definitely the case with solar panel cleaning and maintenance.  Solar cleaning and maintenance is classed by ISCA as a ‘high risk’ job.

Under the section ‘Manual Handling‘, Safe Work Australia state “Injuries can occur  when doing hazardous manual tasks such as manually lifting plant and equipment.”  This is certainly true in the case of solar panel cleaning robots.  As the use of solar panel cleaning robots increases, more consideration should be given to ensure safe lifting of robots is performed.  Safe Work Australia recommend the use of EWPs for lifting items such as solar panel cleaning robots to roof level.  Lifting robots to roofs via ladders should not be done due to overbalancing and having the risk of falling components onto people or property below.


There is a common misconception that solar panel cleaning and maintenance using ladders as the first choice of access is acceptable.  As we can see from this Australian government-approved guidance, ladders should only be used as a last resort and the acceptable use of them is very limited.

man falling off ladder

Wherever possible, the first choice of accessing roofs in Australia for solar panel cleaning and maintenance is scaffolding or EWP.  Work without fall protection should only be done on flat or nearly flat roofs.  Cost of equipment hire is not mentioned once in the document, indicating that cost to clients is not a deciding or mitigating factor.  The risk hierarchy is the deciding factor for safe roof access and the risk hierarchy, not cost, should always be foremost in the decision-making process.  Below are some blanket rules for solar panel cleaning & maintenance in Australia:

  • No ladder access to any roof above single storey under any circumstances
  • No work less than 2m from a roof edge
  • No work at any height longer than 2 hours without fall prevention measures
  • No work on any roof that isn’t flat or almost flat
  • The first choices for safe working at height are scaffolding or EWP, even if the roof-level work is only for a few minutes
  • Working on roofs with electricity present is high risk work and should be treated as such
  • Ladders should only be used on single storey work as a last resort

ISCA rooftop solar panel cleaning safety awareness courses and certification cover all of these subjects, including how to protect yourself from electrocution whilst working around solar arrays.

*Source of above information and further detailed working at height information: