IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

The Challenge of Green Jobs In Quebec’s Photovoltaic Industry


The photovoltaic (PV) Industry, a supplier of solar electricity with a low ecological footprint, is an expanding sector that in 2010 generated some 220,000 green jobs worldwide. It is predicted that by 2020 this will have risen to 2,000,000 jobs. The photovoltaic industry is nevertheless facing potential risks to the health and safety of workers -- risks that apply to the entire life cycle of photovoltaic systems. The overall objective of the research was to draw a portrait of the PV industry in Quebec. Specifically, it aimed to: 1) carry out a literature review, 2) identify the chemicals to which workers are exposed and document their potential risks, and 3) identify problematic manufacturing processes and operations procedures in the area of health and safety, 4) identify Québec companies in the photovoltaic industry, 5) estimate the number of direct and indirect jobs it generates and 6) define its research needs in the area of worker health and safety.
The methodology involved a review of the literature found in scientific databases and grey literature, identification of Quebec companies in the PV industry and, lastly, the development, validation and administration of a questionnaire amongst these companies so as to provide a portrait of the industry in Quebec.

The results were used to highlight the exposure of workers -- in the manufacturing and recycling of photovoltaic components -- to many potentially toxic chemicals and potentially dangerous substances with corrosive and explosives properties, including crystalline silica, cadmium, arsenic, indium and silane. Workers in various fields of application, particularly those involved in the installation of photovoltaic systems, are exposed to safety problems involving falls from heights, electrocution, injuries, lacerations and fire.

The survey, conducted in 2012 among Quebec companies, identified 163 Quebec companies active in photovoltaics: four in the extraction and manufacturing sectors, and 159 in the installation and distribution of PV systems and their components. Almost half of the companies participating in the survey had been active in the PV sector for more than five years and reported no accidents. The data obtained allowed us to estimate that there were 1300 workers in the PV sector. Although the future of the PV industry remains heavily dependent on energy policies and incentives put forward by governments, as well as on economic conditions, the number of workers it employs will likely play a more important role in Quebec’s energy landscape.

This study is a first in Quebec. It is an important contribution to the advancement of both scientific and organizational knowledge on the impact of photovoltaic production and implementation on occupational health and safety. With a view to potential growth in this sector and, consequently, the number of workers involved, several issues and areas of research identified in this study deserve further exploration.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
  • Bouchra Bakhiyi
  • Joseph Zayed
Research Project: 2011-0051
Research Field: Special Projects
Online since: May 06, 2014
Format: Text