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June 29, 2011

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Wind-energy sector needs clearer direction on health and safety

‘Renewable energy’ may currently top the list of fashionable subjects but the sector faces “huge challenges”, including in health and safety, if it is to be successfully developed.

This is according to Making green growth real: UK offshore wind supply chain, the recently published report of a meeting held in March of the offshore wind industry, convened by the Royal Academy of Engineering. Chaired by Academy president, Lord Browne of Madingley, industry representatives concluded that the UK needs to create a supply chain in order to reap the economic benefits of the wind-energy revolution, and that capacity needs to increase substantially if government targets for renewable energy are to be met.

Lord Browne pointed out that the government supported the oil and gas supply chain in its early days, with the result that it now generates £16bn a year and employs more than 300,000 people in the UK.

“That is a valuable economic legacy,” he said, “which was accelerated by early government support, and which can now be repeated for offshore wind.”

The round-table event looked at ways in which the government can support the industry in four key areas – infrastructure, skills, investment, and health and safety. On that last issue, the report calls for the government to ensure that the health and safety regime for offshore wind is rational, clear, and tailored to the specific risks of offshore wind; and to increase the total pool of skilled workers available to the energy industries. (See SHP’s recent feature on working in the renewable-energy sector)

According to Alan Walker, policy advisor at the Royal Academy of Engineering, health and safety is a big issue in the industry but there were “differences of opinion as well as areas of consensus” among those at the meeting.

He said: “Health and safety is absolutely critical – it goes without saying – but we don’t want a regime that stifles growth and innovation. When you compare offshore wind generation with the oil and gas industry, it was felt that the latter’s permissioning regime would be too restrictive. There is some crossover but the two industries are not the same. In oil and gas, there is a smaller number of major installations whereas in offshore wind, there are lots of small installations.”

The report urges the government to consider transferring guidance and enforcement responsibilities for offshore wind health and safety to the HSE’s Offshore division.

Mr Walker explained that there was some disagreement over how much responsibility the HSE should take, and that this will require further discussion. He said: “There is a desire for British companies to keep to a high standard. It’s a difficult balance but the people in the industry are best placed to set their own standards – they know what works and what doesn’t.

“But the industry is also looking to the HSE to enforce those standards. It’s about getting the right skill set. We don’t want cowboys coming in and under-cutting and working dangerously.”

There was universal agreement, however, on the importance of addressing health and safety right from the beginning. Said Walker: “Health and safety starts at the design phase. If the design and training are right at the start, the rest will follow more smoothly from that.”

He acknowledged that, with two deaths in the UK renewables sector so far, the industry is obviously hazardous but pointed out that, globally, “the UK is pretty much leading the way in health and safety in this industry”.

Making green growth real: UK offshore wind supply chain is available at www.raeng.org.uk/offshorewind
 

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Rod

IRATA International – the Industrial Rope Access Trade Association – will publish its ‘Guidance on IRATA Access Methods on Wind Turbiines’ in September. This is exactly the type of diligent and considered publication, substantial but readable and prepared with the workplace in mind, that will bring added safety assurance to turbine maintenance both on- and offshore. Copies can be reserved at [email protected]