Project spotlight: Warehouse solar panel access

Workers stand on FRP non-slip walkway looking over the solar panel installation on a warehouse roof.

Height Safety Engineers completed the design and installation of non-slip walkway and access systems to the large solar panel array on the roof of a commercial warehouse.

A long-standing client of Height Safety Engineers contacted us about installing compliant access for solar panels. Making this job unique was the need for the design and installation to be completed with a short time frame, as the building would be the subject of an extensive video shoot.

About the site

The subject site was a newly built warehouse complex located in a growing area of south-west Sydney.

Although the site contained several different buildings, the work was limited to one building in particular. On this building, two large solar panel arrays had been installed.

HSE was approached to assist in providing safe access to the solar panels so that regular maintenance and cleaning activities could be carried out.

An added level of complexity existed with this site as the installation of the system needed to be completed within a matter of days ahead of the building being featured in an advertising campaign by the owner that required people to be able to safely access the solar panel array.

Design considerations

The size of the warehouse roof and the scope of the solar system installed were taken into consideration by HSE’s design team when considering the best way to implement safe access.

The nature of the roof is that it only had a slight grade on it to allow for rainwater runoff. With the pitch of the roof being less than 15-degrees, it was possible to design a system that allowed for access without the use of a fall protection harness.

This allows workers to access the roof more easily, without needing to be attached to an anchor point or other fall arrest system. Work can be completed with greater ease and more freedom of movement.

With metal sheeting being used in the construction of the roof, it was important that the access system also provide a non-slip surface for workers. A non-slip surface protects workers against the risk of losing their footing while working or traversing across the roof.

Creating safe working at height

To provide a stable, level, and non-slip surface for workers, our team selected fibreglass reinforced plastic (FRP) walkway material to form the base of the height safety system. It is a lightweight material with a textured surface that provides significant amounts of grip for workers, even in the event of rain or other adverse weather.

The lightweight nature of FRP walkway also provides for a reduced load being placed on the roof itself from the safety system. This property does provide benefits for our technician teams as it can be easily worked with, cut, and manipulated on site during the installation process.

Although the roof of the warehouse is built with only a shallow grade and much of the solar panel installation is done well away from building edges, an amount of edge protection was still required to place a barrier between workers and edges in a few different places around the roof.

To provide this, the team utilised a modular aluminium guardrail system from SafetyLink. This system often utilised by our installation department as it is easy to install as well as being simple to modify to suit the exact needs of the site while remaining compliant with Australian Standard 1657 that governs guardrails and barriers.

Access to the roof itself was provided by upgrading the existing the existing ladder on-site to include a ladder cage. The ladder cage was supplied from the team at Kattsafe.

Next steps

The next steps for this system will be to ensure it is kept in a compliant manner during its working life. In the main, this will take the form on an annual compliance inspection.

Following installation of a safe access and fall protection system, a technician will visit the site each year and perform an inspection on the system components. This inspection checks that their condition remains good. It also makes sure that fixings and other items are not damaged or corroded. The inspection ensures the system is going to continue to function as designed and intended.

Project details

  • Walkway:
    • 400 metres non-slip FRP walkway installed.
  • Guardrail:
    • 180 metres aluminium guardrail installed.
  • Access improvements:
    • Upgrade of main access ladder to include ladder cage.
  • Timeline:
    • Project completed in mid-November 2023.

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