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PROTECTING SOLAR PANELS FROM BIRDS – SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS

Peter McCarthy, director of Pest IT, shares his expert tips on how to protect high value solar panels from pest birds. 

With the continuing growth of solar panel installations on residential and commercial buildings, bird management is potentially a great growth opportunity for pest managers.

However operators need to be aware of several factors when working on roofs with solar panels, to make sure work is carried out safely and expensive insurance claims are avoided.

Solar industry Australian Standards

The AS/NZ 5033:2014 is a Code of Practice for all new solar systems installation, and discusses both the safety issues of new systems and areas where a manufacturer’s warranty may be voided. From a bird manager’s point of view, it is vital that there are no penetrating attachments made to the panel frame.

As such, professionals must avoid drilling and attaching pot rivets or screws to the side of solar panels. Installers should use only clips (such as those pictured) to attach mesh (poly or metal) to the side of the panel frame. Pest managers drilling into solar panels risk damage and the liability of replacement when the manufacturers’ warranties are voided.

Electrocution

Unfortunately, as with many industries, the solar industry was plagued by ‘cowboys’ and poorly installed systems that were not correctly earthed or isolated. There is the potential to be electrocuted by incorrectly installed systems and bird managers and all visitors to a roof should check the metal frame of the solar panel with an insulated multi-meter (for live current) before touching a solar panel frame. While unlikely, the danger exists and the consequences are very serious. The new AS/NZ5033:2014 specifies safety componentry for electric shocks, overcurrent and earth faults – but beware, as it is difficult to estimate the installation date of an existing panel system.

Galvanic corrosion

This is a form of accelerated corrosion, which exists where different types metals are touching. For example, when a combination of aluminium, roof sheeting (zinc, Colorbond and galvanised) and stainless steel are connected. Combined with moisture, multiple metal types touching will result in the ‘least noble’ metal corroding. When using a metal mesh, it is important to achieve ‘separation’ using rubber or neoprene to ensure an electrolysis-like corrosion does not take place. The use of poly mesh or plastic coated mesh will avoid this.

Damage to Colorbond roofing

When using a metal mesh there is the danger it will rub on Colorbond roofing and therefore scratch the surface. This is to be avoided as the presence of moisture, bird faeces and exposed metal will cause serious damage to the roof. It is also important not to drill into roof sheeting to avoid moisture incursion into the building.

Working at heights

Bird managers need to be aware of and be trained in the use of harnesses, roof anchor points and possible rescue procedures, to ensure a safe working environment. Both working at heights permits and working in pairs is mandatory in most states. Pitched roofs, moisture, lichen, moss and atmospheric dirt on roofs make for a very slippery and dangerous situation. Access equipment is readily available in the form of towable boom lifts available for hire from local and national access equipment hire. This cost can be included and amortised over the value of the installation.

Cleaning

As with most areas of bird management, cleaning remains an exceptional and profitable addition to bird management works. Be sure to include cleaning as the bird faeces will persist and continue to corrode the roof and metal fixtures long after your solar exclusion system is in place. As with all aspects of pest control, correct PPE is imperative. Hazards such as pathogens, bacteria, airborne particulates and other bird related debris pose a risk to the homeowner and professional alike.

Peter McCarthy, Director, Pest IT

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