Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace has today asked the Electrical Safety Commissioner to convene an urgent industry roundtable to discuss safety in large-scale solar farms.
The Minister made the request after the Court of Appeal dismissed an application by the State Government to overturn a recent ruling which invalidated solar farm safety regulations which came into effect last month.
“The Palaszczuk Government accepts today’s decision of the Court of Appeal but is disappointed by the result,” Ms Grace said.
“Today’s decision is about a technical legal ruling and does not deal with the substantive safety reasoning behind the making of the solar farms regulation.
“The Government acted on the advice of an expert safety panel and Crown Law in relation to the making of the regulation.
“My department is currently considering the full extent of the decision, including whether legislative changes are required.”
Ms Grace said today’s decision clearly highlighted that Queensland’s electrical safety laws had not kept pace with new and emerging technologies, including large-scale solar farms.
“The Electrical Safety Act has not undergone any significant changes in 17 years. A great deal of technological change and the emergence of new industries have occurred since this time,” she said.
“It is important our safety laws reflect contemporary industry and are able to respond to new and emerging industries, such as large-scale solar farms.”
Ms Grace said claims by the Opposition and industry that regional jobs were under threat by the solar regulations were unfounded.
“Labourers jobs were never under threat. What the regulations did was to provide clarity on the safety standards for electrical work on solar farms to ensure the safety of all workers and the community at large. There were many jobs that labourers could continue to do under the regulations,” she said.
“The safety risks for workers installing solar panels on large-scale solar farms, including electrical shock and fire, are very real and remains a significant concern for the Government.
“The evidence is also very clear – the Electrical Safety Office and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland have conducted more than 200 audits of large-scale solar farms across Queensland and issued 81 statutory notices for a range of breaches of work health and safety and electrical safety laws.”
“There are no second chances when it comes to electrical safety,” she said
These breaches included unlicensed electrical work, non-compliant electrical installations and inadequate safe work method statements and emergency plans.
Electrical Safety Commissioner Greg Skyring also expressed disappointment and concern over the today’s decision.
“The solar farm regulations provided clarity and guidance for the industry and it is great shame it has been knocked out by a technicality – the safety risks remain despite today’s decision,” Mr Skyring said.
“During the stakeholder consultations I was very concerned to hear that unlicensed workers were commonly ‘creeping’ into the territory of performing electrical work, such as the earthing of installations, cabling and removal of connected panels.
“I continue to support the Government in their efforts to ensure this industry and the jobs it creates can grow but not at the cost of safety”, Commissioner Skyring said.
The Electrical Safety Office will continue to actively monitor compliance at solar farms throughout the state and ensure that work is conducted safely and electricians undertake electrical work in-line with the current legislation.