Project Quality & Safety

In this 20-minute webcast, we discuss:

  • What kinds of questions should I ask about quality when I am evaluating a solar provider?
  • How do I know that the materials being used in my installation will meet my needs?
  • Do I need to worry about a company’s safety record when I hire them? What happens if someone gets injured?


Watch the recorded webcast:

Webcast Transcript:

Craig Noxon: Hello, everyone! Welcome to Solar Tea Time. I’m Craig Noxon, VP of Enterprise Sales at REC Solar. My special guest today is Jesse Elliott, Senior Director of Safety and Quality at REC Solar.

Let’s get ready for the topic of the day, Safety and Quality. With me is Jesse Elliott. Jesse is actually calling us from his vacation in South Dakota where he’s with his family.

Craig Noxon: The first question is

Why do I need to worry about a company safety record when I hire them? What happens if someone gets injured during a job?

Jesse Elliott: Great question. Let me throw out an example to our listeners to see if they can answer this question with their gut instinct as to why it is important to be concerned about a contractor’s safety record performance. So, here is an absolute real-world example of what could happen during a solar construction project.

So the first example, you’re an owner of a large facility complex with many skylights on your roof. Your solar contractor begins the job. You never bothered to see if they setup all protection on the roof. But halfway through the construction, a worker is walking backwards along sky modules, trips over skylight, shatters the skylight and falls 35 feet below to his death in the middle of your manufacturing facility, the supermarket, the school, your office building. Do you think that’s a problem for you? I think most would agree.

In this example customers have the major problems to deal with through lack of health and safety compliance of contractors that they have selected. So, customers who are hiring contractors for construction need to worry about contractor compliance which requires safety laws, just as owners need to be compliant with safety laws that apply to the operation of their facilities. Most entities in the US operate under construction or general industry OSHA which is Occupational Health and Safety Standard Administration. If you’re a business owner, you’re required to implement general industry safety and health rules at your fixed location. If you’re a construction company, you’re required to implement construction OSHA Safety Rules during construction. If you’re an owner, you need to make sure that contractor you hired to perform that work is also implementing construction OSHA rules during the project.

Let’s go back to our example. You’re going to have legal issues to deal with, you’re going to have operational delays due to a crime scene that’s now at your facility, right? With this death, and the sheer knowledge that a fatality occurred on your premises were your employees were exposed is such a horrible event, right? It’s a nightmare for a company.

So, just a couple of things that for our listeners to look for. First is the safety record. The contractor should have an EMR, which is an Experience Modification Rate relating to worker’s compensation. It tells you how well you are compared to your peers in your classification. You’re looking for EMR less than 1.0 or maybe between 1.0, 1.25 but they should have a very good explanation of why they’re within that range.

You can check to see if contractors have OSHA violations by checking on OSHA’s website. You need to check to make sure your contractors have safety programs and systems in place to ensure not only compliance but promote a positive healthy and safety culture. So minimum major programs that should be in place by your contractors would be an Illness and injury prevention program, a heat illness prevention program and check that they have communication for protection, observation and trenching and watchful safety material. There are dozens of other ones that you could throw in there. Those are kind of the main ones that customers should be looking for with a contractor.

It is not only important that they are in place but also that they’re being implemented and enforced. Safety programs seen in the binder and a job trailer and a job site do nobody any good. They need to be used. They need to be referenced and implemented continuously. So, my last advice is from a customer’s perspective. When a facility manager or the actual owner show up during construction, inspect for yourself. You must inspect what you expect. And it should not be on the last day of construction. Any good contractor has a weekly safety inspection form. So shadow them on one inspection. This educates not only the customer but also shows on the customer side that you’re concerned about the well-being of the workforce and not having an accident in this operation.

For REC we’ve been sold to some of the top companies in the nation including government, military work. You don’t even get in the door with these folks unless you have a robust health and safety program. I’d like to think that we have built some very robust safety programs and have definitely created this strong safety culture that comes from our senior leadership down to our employees in the field. It’s both a top-down and a bottoms-up involvement.

Craig Noxon: In my role Jesse, as VP of Enterprise Sales, we deal with customers where safety is a primary concern.

But the question to you is what kind of questions should customers be asking about quality when they’re evaluating a solar provider?

Jesse Elliott: I think that’s going to depend on whether you’re a Fortune 1000 company and you’re an energy manager is looking to put solar on multiple facilities across the nation in different geographical regions let’s say from Hawaii to the East Coast or in the Central Valley in California. The questions can vary. But in general, I would say, the following should be asked at minimum. Is the system being designed and engineered by industry experts? It’s crucial to have an EPC firm, an Engineering, Procurement and Construction firm that I can value engineer a system for the space that you may have available for solar.

Next question, are energy production numbers and corresponding cash flow analysis accurate? Quality systems start all the way back in the sales cycle during customer’s first interaction with technical sales associates where they’re trying to understand the customer’s need. What is the return that the customer is looking for? You want an EPC firm that has tools that quickly and accurately generate and balance the economics of your system.

Next, I could specifically relate into overall company quality would be does the EPC contractor have a quality management system and an in-house quality department? Quality is not just filling out a checklist during and after material.

Over my 10 years at REC Solar, I’ve come to define quality as two things, quality assurance and quality control. Quality assurance is in my definition all the consistent and repeatable processes that are put in place to add value to an organization in order to deliver quality products which includes quality control. You see it’s a process under your quality assurance. Quality control is just a physical act of expecting work for compliance to set a known quality standard whether that’s following design review checklist or inspecting an inverter that has just been installed for proper mounting and terminating.

Jesse Elliott: It is also important that an EPC has an inhouse safety and quality department. That safety and quality department helps drive safety and quality culture within an organization. All the departments feeding construction need to deliver quality drawings, materials. Because the job of the QMS is to provide a strong quality training program that gives instructions to teams, to build systems correctly the first time. Contractors need to have training programs in place to rapidly train the workforce on how to do things correctly the first time.

Craig Noxon: Right. And make sure their subs are following safety rules.

Craig Noxon: Jesse we have one-minute left so I just wanted to quickly touch on the last question.

And that’s how do I know that the materials being used in my installation will meet my needs? What can customers do to make sure that we’re using the right kind of equipment?

Jesse Elliott: Customers don’t necessarily know that there is a product that was selected or installation method that was implemented and if it is the right one. I’ve made our teams or our subcontractors fix even after the final punch list slot from the customer because again, we’re delivering high quality. We’re going to make what we told the customer.

It important for us to choose the right quality materials for systems to last. We can have environmental corrosion, structural failure, water intrusion, damage to the facility, if materials are not chosen correctly. It is important to see the correct material chosen for the environment whether it’s installed in Hawaii, Tucson, Arizona or the East Coast.

Craig Noxon: Yeah, you have to take the weather into account you know salt water and rain. Jesse, do you have any kind of closing thoughts in terms of safety and maybe what customers and other contractors will be looking for in this topic?

Jesse Elliott: Sure. In an ideal world, I hope all customers care about safety and quality as much as I do. We are in an industry right now that’s in a precarious point. Costs are being driven down or we’re required to drive our cost down. We’re looking in all areas to reduce those costs. As long as I’m in this industry, there’s no way I’m sacrificing quality product, quality of installation, safety, etcetera. If there are customers out there that are looking for the right EPC contractor to build, you want to make sure that what you paid for is going to last, what you paid for is not going to have an accident on your jobsite when your contractor is building. That point is going to have unknown hidden cost that the customer doesn’t want to deal with. So, I guess those are my closing comments relating to safety and quality.

Craig Noxon: OK. Great. Well, thanks Jesse. Thanks for sharing your insights. If anyone would to talk to Jesse more about anything regarding safety and quality, feel free to email us. You can also email us if you have any questions you’d like answered in the future and future topics for Solar Tea Time.

Have a question for us? Let’s talk.

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