Oil pipeline explosions, earthquakes triggering nuclear meltdown and dangerous gas leaks – when it comes to accidents, the wind industry may not make the headlines in quite the same way as other parts of the energy sector, but it is certainly not accident-immune. The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) explains what the industry should do, and is doing, to counter the risks.
An electrical fire can occur; heavy parts can fall from great heights; lifting huge unstable loads with cranes might go wrong; transferring workers from vessels to an offshore turbine in wavy conditions can be dangerous: the accidents which threaten those in the wind industry are plentiful. What’s more, when an accident occurs in a remote wind farm, rescue can take longer.
These hazards can result in serious accidents, but also in slips, falls, cuts, bruises and fractures -which represent the majority of incidents in the wind industry and result in lost time and money.
So what is the industry doing about the health and safety risk? And, as the sector continues to expand at a pace, what are the plans for health and safety going forward?
Wind power and risk: growing together?
As far as the energy sector goes, the wind industry is young, but, what is more, it is expanding rapidly. Growth rates over the last decade have been phenomenal with just 23GW of installed capacity in the EU in 2002, rising to reach over 117GW in 2013.
While this is news to be celebrated, rapid growth brings with it significant challenges for health and safety. On the one hand, there is the human factor: there are people who do not have the benefit of years of experience working specifically in the wind industry – and the number of workers employed is continually rising.
On top of that, larger wind farms with bigger machines mean that the potential for accidents grows. And the risk factor gets even higher as we move further offshore into bigger and bigger farms in more hostile environments with turbines that could one day reach capacities of up to 20MW.
But growth is not necessarily bad for health and safety. Flip the coin over and you see that, as the industry grows, it is becoming more mechanised – and so risky activities can be carried out from the safety of a control centre – while greater economies of scale mean you can invest in reducing risk.
EWEA’s work on health and safety
Health and safety is an important area of work for EWEA. Our work on health and safety is focused on the promotion of best practice and harmonisation of regulation, standards, training, safety rules and documentation of work. This is a vital and necessary step towards preventing accidents and reducing risks for personnel working on site in the wind industry.
One of our recent initiatives is a new health and safety video designed to complement training programmes for wind energy technicians. It covers basic health and safety measures for onshore and offshore work.
We are working to develop Europe-wide best-practice health and safety recommendations, and we also host and disseminate information standards and recommendations which we see as representing industry best practice. This includes Global Wind Organisation (GWO) – a non-profit organisation of wind turbine owners and wind turbine manufacturers.
The aim of GWO is to strive for an injury-free work environment in the wind turbine industry, through cooperation among the members, in setting common standards for safety training and emergency procedures. GWO have developed a standard for basic safety training covering first aid, manual handling, fire awareness, working at height and sea survival. These standards are also available on our website.
Meanwhile, we encourage the exchange of best practices and are working on developing and maintaining a Europe-wide clearing-house mechanism to report and aggregate data on health and safety incidents. We are working towards carrying out reviews of national health and safety regulation across Europe, aiming to see what level of harmonisation is appropriate for the industry, as well as identifying differences between countries.
The wind industry needs to be united and EWEA acts as a European health and safety platform, bringing coordination within the industry as well as encouraging communication between the wind industry and external organisations, such as EU institutions and national authorities.
Most of our work on health and safety is based on collaboration with our members through EWEA’s health and safety task force, which consists of health and safety managers with a wide variety of expertise.
Good health and safety management, at all levels of the organisation, results in a reduction of occupational accidents and a fall in the costs associated with an accident allows more money to be available for design, development and accident prevention. A company that is committed to the health and safety of its employees can also see an increase in productivity due to better workforce morale.
We encourage our members to invest in health and safety, saving time, money and, most important of all, lives.
Need to standardise requirements across Europe?
Currently each country across Europe has its own national legislation on health and safety, and its own way of doing things. Right now there is no need for the authorities to step in to enforce an EU-level health and safety standard because the industry is doing a good job already.
However, the benefits of harmonised guidelines are clear: no time will be lost to retrain workers transferred internationally, and the industry will know what to expect in terms of health and safety standards, which should raise the general level of health and safety.
Health and safety is good business
Health and safety is a necessary topic in whatever part of the wind industry you work in, and it makes human and financial sense.
Meanwhile, good health and safety is good business: it will reduce costs, avoid delays and cut unnecessary costs, such as retrofitting, which can lead to delays costing thousands of euros per day of delay.
Wind power is a very significant energy producer; we should accompany that with a strong focus on good health and safety.