With more than 6,000 turbinesi now generating 11% of our electricityii, the UK’s wind power industry is thriving. In fact, to meet government targets for renewable energy another 1,000 turbinesiii will be needed in the next five years alone. However, while this race to harness wind power may protect our environment, is it also endangering workers?
More than 150 accidentsiv now occur in the wind power industry every year. Indeed, the industry’s trade body even suggests this figure may be too low, citing 1,500 accidentsv on wind farms from 2006 - 2011, including four deaths and 300 injuries to workers. These worrying figures are only likely to grow with the size of the industry itself.
Throwing caution to the wind?
Unfortunately, the challenge is a complex one. As a relatively new sector, the varied dangers present on wind farms are often less known by employees. Indeed, turbine designs can vary dramatically and each wind farm presents subtly different hazards. Meanwhile, the industry’s rapid growth has also created a skills gap, meaning that less experienced workers can find themselves undertaking processes without proper training, putting their health and safety at risk.
This problem is further amplified because the wind power industry employs a hugely diverse set of people, from engineers and ecologists to construction workers and maintenance personnel, all of whom have different job requirements and levels of training. These staff are also often expected to work alone for long periods in situations involving many different hazards: from working at height or in confined spaces, to moving parts, falling objects or simply the physical exertion of scaling towers.
The risks to lone workers
Although locating turbines in isolated areas subject to high winds makes perfect sense from a power generation perspective, it dramatically increases the risk to lone workers. Hard-to-reach areas with extremely rough terrain, few roads and unpredictable weather make a rapid response by the emergency services difficult. This is even truer for the UK’s growing number of offshore wind farms, with the most recent planned to be 125km out to seavi.
In these remote areas mobile coverage is often patchy or non-existent, so lone workers must have another reliable means to raise the alarm and summon help as quickly as possible. LONEALERT’s Anywhere solution offers one way to address this challenge, with a satellite communicator equipped with GPS technology enabling lone workers to be monitored and protected anytime, anyplace.
Additionally, the extreme height of modern turbines means that it would often be impossible to reach trapped employees without specialist equipment. This problem will only get worse as energy companies race to design larger turbines that can generate more power, with the latest models now reaching heights of 200mvii. Since lone workers will often be scaling towers to carry out their duties, it’s crucial that the alarm can be raised in the event of a fall, even if an employee is incapacitated. Automated solutions can help; for instance when LONEALERT’s Man Down Alarm detects falls, it audibly warns the user and then raises an alert if there’s no response.
Protecting employees in the wind power industry is a huge challenge; it demands that energy companies, supervisors and health & safety managers all carefully study the risks, especially when assigning staff to work alone in unfamiliar and hazardous environments. Lone workers, too, need to take responsibility for their own safety by taking reasonable care of themselves, identifying potential hazards and ensuring they’re adequately trained. Ultimately this is not just about rules and policies, or even new technologies, it’s about creating a culture of safety to prevent accidents, reduce risks and ensure lone workers are never left to twist in the wind.
- RenewableUK, Operational Figures, 2015: http://www.renewableuk.com/en/renewable-energy/wind-energy/uk-wind-energy-database/index.cfm
- Siemens, How offshore wind measures up, 2014: http://smartkpis.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/Siemens.png
- The Times, Renewable energy target calls for 1,000 new wind turbines, inquiry told, 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/19/new-renewable-energy-target-will-need-1000-wind-turbines-inquiry-told
- Caithness Windfarm Information Forum, Summary of Wind Turbine Accident data to 31 March 2015, 2015: http://www.caithnesswindfarms.co.uk/accidents.pdf
- RenewableUK, referenced by The Times, 1,500 accidents and incidents on UK wind farms, 2011: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/8948363/1500-accidents-and-incidents-on-UK-wind-farms.html
- TBBC News, Dogger Bank offshore wind farm wins government approval, 2015: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-31512089
- The Times, New wave of wind turbines will rise 200 metres high, 2015: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/environment/article4400861.ece