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January 8, 2014

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Energy – throwing caution to the wind

Chris Streatfeild sets out how the offshore wind energy industry is approaching health and safety by learning from the experiences of other sectors.

The UK has been the world leader in offshore wind since October 2008, with as much capacity already installed as the rest of the world combined. The Government’s ambition is for up to 16GW to be installed by 2020. If delivery continues at this accelerated rate, the UK industrial base can prosper, and over the next decade 45,000 people could be employed in the offshore wind sector.

RenewableUK represents over 600 member companies operating across the whole supply chain and life cycle of wind, wave and tidal projects. From its foundations in 1978, health and safety has been central to its outlook. While the association has always sought to maximise the deployment of renewable energy technology, this has only ever been if safety is not compromised.
Our vision: “To continue to be a leading enabler in the delivery of an expanding UK wind, wave and tidal sector free of fatalities, injuries, work-related ill-health and environmental incidents” is delivered through active health and safety working groups in partnership with regulators and key industry stakeholders, including, among others, the HSE, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), the International Maritime Contractor Association (IMCA), the G9 Forum, and the Crown Estate.
In the last 10 years we have seen the offshore wind industry progress from small-scale demonstration projects to what are now some of the most complex and sophisticated engineering projects in the world. The London Array, Greater Gabbard and Sheringham Shoal projects are currently three of the largest global offshore projects.1 They provide the learning and experience we will need to deliver the next generation Round 3 projects on time, on budget, and with safety built in from the outset. 
Although working at height is perhaps the most obvious safety hazard for the offshore industry, the range of risks are somewhat more diverse.
While it is impossible to predict how the industry will take on the safety challenges, there is a growing consensus among all key stakeholders about the areas we will need to develop new standards and best practice for. 
Key offshore hazards and challenges:
  • vessel safety;
  • access/egress to offshore structures;
  • diving and all underwater work;
  • design risk;
  • contractors and supply chain management;
  • emergency response and marine coordination;
  • environmental and weather constraints;
  • safety critical interfaces;
  • training and competence;
  • lifting operations;
  • asset integrity;
  • occupational health; and
  • logistics and mobilisation.1
A key objective when deciding on any health and safety initiative is to not re-invent the wheel. If adequate standards already exist, then the safest and most cost-effective option is often to use what is available. For this reason the offshore wind and marine health and safety guidance issued by RenewableUK in 2013, while highlighting the particular issues relevant to the sector, places a strong emphasis on signposting accepted standards and good practice. 
This approach has allowed the industry to target the development of guidance and standards on those issues that are more complex, unique or particular to the sector, which has resulted in the development of guidance in areas such as: jack-up barges; wind turbine safety rules; vessel safety; and rescue. We are also likely to see increasing cooperation between many of the key stakeholders in identifying new work streams to address specific health and safety topics. 
Learning lessons from accidents and benchmarking safety performance is accepted good health and safety practice. While the principles are straightforward, the practice is more complex in this sector. Firstly, renewable energy activities do not simply align to recognised HSE or SIC classification, which makes it difficult to easily compare performance with recognised industry statistics and especially HSE data. Secondly, the complexity and diversity of the supply chain, including differing approaches and metrics being adopted make the collation of reliable safety data difficult. 
However, a lot of positive action has been taken forward by the sector. In 2006 RenewableUK (formerly BWEA) launched a ‘lessons learned’ scheme to drive safety improvements in the sector, which was further developed with the launch of the Renewable Industry Safety Exchange at the start of 2013. These initiatives and safety data, generated by organisations such as the G9 developers’ forum, concur with a recent HSE board paper2, which stated “whilst the sector continues to expand, analysis of relevant data, from both internal and external sources, does not highlight any cause for concern and indicates a sector that is taking health and safety seriously”. Reliable statistics and the development of leading indicators are likely to be central to the safety learning for the sector in the coming years. 
The development of large-scale offshore wind projects will see one of the biggest changes to sea area in the last 40 years. As wind projects move further from land, we can expect to see workers based offshore for extended periods and operations being conducted in a more demanding environment. While the scale of potential major incidents or emergencies will not be the same as offshore oil and gas activities (hydrocarbon release and fire/explosions), incidents in the sector could still be significant and challenging to manage. Incidents involving helicopters, vessels (all types), persons overboard, medivac (heart attacks), major trauma, and fires are just a few examples that careful emergency planning and response arrangements need to fully consider. 
The industry will rightly draw on the experience in managing offshore emergencies from the oil and gas and marine contracting sectors. However, there are certain risks more particular to large offshore wind projects that mean a more bespoke solution is required. 
This has led to every offshore project being required to have MCA-endorsed emergency response co-operation plans, which form part of wider emergency planning arrangements. A positive development in recent years has been the cooperation and partnership between industry and key stakeholders in working together to effectively manage the issues. Examples include: regular emergency response exercises conducted by the industry and key emergency response agencies; close cooperation by key stakeholders via industry forums to prepare for major incidents; and developing good practice to ensure technical and competency standards are agreed and widely disseminated. 
Investing in training and skills across the renewable energy supply chain will be vital if the industry is to continue to deliver the highest health and safety standards. It is therefore not surprising that training has been central to RenewableUK work plans over the last five years. 
There are no mandatory training schemes or standards that specifically apply to large wind projects in the UK. It is the responsibility of the duty holder to identify what its training requirements are and to determine whether any particular training standards or schemes can fulfil those needs. 
However, there has been a significant move in the last few years to look at the harmonisation of training standards reflecting the particular risks of the sector but also taking into account the movement of workers across national boundaries. Through industry consensus, this has already led to the development of basic level training standards covering marine safety, working at height and rescue, fire awareness, first aid and manual handling. New standards covering electrical safety rules or helicopter winching are just some of the areas where the industry is moving towards a more harmonised approach.
This whistle stop overview of offshore wind couldn’t take in all the key health and safety challenges and opportunities relevant to the sector. Occupational health, medical fitness, marine operations, lifting operations, safety rules (LV/HV) and even work at height are just a few topics where the industry is actively engaged in defining good and emerging best practices. So watch out for these developments in 2014.
Despite mixed messages from politicians and the media on renewable energy issues, offshore wind and health and safety excellence are very much alive and kicking. Onshore construction, oil and gas and traditional energy generation took decades to develop their culture and safety practices, sometimes at the expense of the safety, health and welfare of workers. The UK offshore wind sector takes seriously the opportunity to deliver the jobs and energy security we need and in doing so innovate safety best practices that can be shared with the growing global renewable energy sector.
Many of the above themes will be discussed at the health and safety annual conference in Birmingham on 29 January, which is celebrating its 10th year as the renewable industry’s premier health and safety event. The conference reinforces the priority given to safety and showcases organisations and individuals who are at the sharp end making the difference in reducing risks and providing a future of safe and sustainable energy that we all need.  
Chris Streatfeild is director of health and safety at RenewableUK

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