Massive solar farm poses deadly risk to workers
Workers on a giant new solar farm near Dubbo are in danger of being electrocuted by dodgy wiring installed by an Indian company.
SafeWork NSW has issued 13 improvement notices to the company, which is installing the solar panels on 316ha of farmland in central western NSW, to make urgent repairs.
Most of the safety breaches "could easily lead to the electrocution of a worker on the project," Electrical Trades Union secretary Justin Page said.
SafeWork inspectors are due back at the Wellington Solar Farm on Monday to inspect the repairs. Failure to comply with the 13 notices could result in fines totalling almost $3 million.
The solar farm is owned by Lightsource BP, which commissioned Indian solar giant Sterling and Wilson to build the 200 megawatt farm that will generate electricity for 70,000 homes.
"Sterling and Wilson claim to be the largest solar contractor on Earth, yet safety inspections of their first Australian project have found a long list of breaches that could result in the serious injury or death of a worker," Mr Page said.
Inspectors found permanent power cables being run through irrigation pipes, and domestic-rated power boards being used on the site.
"The solar industry likes to promote its progressive reputation, but what we're seeing at major projects like the Wellington Solar Farm are employment and safety practices that fall far short of community expectations," Mr Page said.
The site employs 560 workers but the union said the workforce was "primarily made up of backpackers hired through contractors" who were "oblivious to the serious safety risks".
The union first raised the alarm in September when a bore drilling machine almost hit high-voltage power lines.
An official sent to inspect the site was denied access on the second day and taken to the local police station.
In September, Sterling and Wilson announced it had secured a further two solar projects in Australia worth $300 million.
Sterling and Wilson's global solar chief executive Bikesh Ogra said: "Our total order book in Australia now stands at about $1.2 billion with five projects and a portfolio of more than 1.1GW, making us the largest homegrown solar EPC player in the region."
Mr Page said: "Clean energy should be safe energy, but unfortunately some companies seem more focused on building these projects quickly and cheaply than on ensuring they are safe for construction workers and maintenance teams."
NSW Fair Trading said it was aware of the matter and was investigating.
A Lightsource bp spokesperson said: "Lightsource bp are ensuring our construction contractor Stirling & Wilson is swiftly and effectively addressing all improvement notices and we are awaiting a final review from SafeWork."
Originally published as Massive solar farm poses deadly risk to workers