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When it comes to photovoltaic systems it is often thought that they are simple rows of panels arranged in series, producing energy every day, without the need for maintenance or checks. Yet the major solar players are increasingly interested, in addition to ordinary O&M management (operation and maintenance), also in workplace safety and environmental protection.
The most prudent are in fact setting up departments to ensure the protection of the health and safety of workers (these are still plants that generate low and medium voltage electricity) and compliance with environmental standards, from the correct disposal of the panels to the protection of natural contexts in which the systems are installed. These are the departments HSE, Health, Safety, Environment.
To get to know them closely we interviewed Paolo Lugiato, which for years was the only photovoltaic manager to foresee a HSE Department in the RTR Group and that the new CEO, Ingmar Wilhelm, continues to support today, through the direction and coordination of Enzo Matticoli (HSE Manager) and Vincenzo Monaco (HSE Engineer).
Q: What is an HSE Department in a renewable company?
Paolo Lugiato: HSE stands for Health, Safety and Environment, and the department that deals with it guarantees, through the active involvement of management, the implementation of an HSE management system, which by definition is the set of responsibilities, structures, human and economic resources and procedures necessary for the management of aspects mentioned above.
Q: In the company you worked for, RTR, what have you done over the years?
Paolo Lugiato: We have planned a series of interventions for the safety of photovoltaic systems, adopted and implemented various health and safety procedures, constantly monitoring their application. The continuous and timely verification of professional technical suitability, in addition to being a regulatory requirement, allows to maintain high performance of contractors operating at photovoltaic plants. In terms of safety at work, training and information, both for RTR staff and that of stakeholders, is also one of the pillars on which the HSE management system is based.
Q: You talk about safety at work within photovoltaic systems: what types of risks do the operation and maintenance activities generate and what must be done to mitigate them?
Paolo Lugiato: The photovoltaic system naturally produces low and medium voltage energy and therefore the electrical risk is certainly perceived as one of the most relevant. However, the risks generated by other activities cannot be overlooked, from cutting the grass, cleaning the panels, up to the civil maintenance of all the elements serving the photovoltaic system. These risks, if not managed correctly, could in fact lead to even more serious accidents than those related to the electrical risk. Therefore, all sources of risk must be assessed, mitigating actions implemented and continuous inspections carried out, to verify that safety conditions are always guaranteed, especially after maintenance. In the event that non-conformities or dangerous situations are detected, corrective actions must be taken immediately. Finally, environmental protection is guaranteed by the continuous assessment of significant environmental aspects, a methodology that allows for the identification, assessment and mitigation of environmental impacts due to maintenance activities, atmospheric events and the site-specific characteristics of the plants.
Q: From the point of view of security linked to criminal phenomena (security), for example the theft of panels, what are the technologies and procedures that must be implemented on a large photovoltaic system?
Paolo Lugiato: obviously an anti-intrusion system is needed, consisting for example of infrared or microwave barriers, alarm control units, cameras, fences and everything necessary to guarantee security. The systems are monitored by operational centers of qualified providers, which require the intervention of the supervisory institutions in case of break-in attempts. From the point of view of safety at work, following a break-in, the O&M operator will proceed with a general check before any maintenance activity, especially if part of the system should be out of service.
Q: From the point of view of environmental protection, what kind of measures are taken for a photovoltaic system?
Paolo Lugiato: From an environmental point of view, the most important element is the so-called environmental mitigation, or a green belt set up on the perimeter of the photovoltaic system. These mitigation interventions aim, in addition to minimizing the visual impact, to increase plant and landscape biodiversity, and allow the inclusion and connection of the relevant area with the ecological network of the territory. The continuous and constant monitoring of the state of the drainage systems then makes it possible to avoid damage deriving from atmospheric events of a significant entity, unfortunately in recent years more and more frequent. In addition, procedures have been adopted to manage and limit environmental accidents, such as the accidental spillage of liquids that are dangerous to the environment. In fact, each plant has been equipped with special anti-spill kits that allow these events to be managed quickly and effectively.
Q: What do you do for waste management? What is the most important rejection?
Paolo Lugiato: The waste produced by the maintenance activities within a photovoltaic system are mainly the so-called WEEE, or Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment. Particular attention is paid to the management of the disposal of photovoltaic panels, which in addition to following national legislation, must also comply with the guidelines issued by the GSE. In all photovoltaic systems, areas for the temporary storage of WEEE have been identified: this to allow O&M operators to manage this activity in a correct, safe and environmentally friendly manner.
D: Let's go back to training and information: you have adopted a tool called Video HSE Induction. What is it about?
Paolo Lugiato: Having a portfolio of plants extended throughout the national territory also entails having several O&M operators, with an important number of subcontractors. With a view to continuous improvement, RTR deemed it necessary, in addition to document verification of the training of incoming personnel, to further raise awareness of all the risks and procedures to be followed within a photovoltaic system. For this reason, the most suitable tool to meet our needs has been identified in a special video available on our website, therefore accessible to all through a specific registration. To date, over a thousand people have viewed the RTR HSE Induction Video, contributing significantly to raising the level of awareness regarding health, safety at work and environmental protection.
By the editorial staff of Our website