As the UK moves into its third round of permits for offshore wind farms, The Crown Estate, which manages the waters around the UK, has seen improvements come from experience gained in the previous rounds. The key lessons learned have involved the efficient use of vessels and a better understanding of training. But Round 3 will see plants sited further offshore, in deeper water and at more remote locations, all of which bring fresh risks.
The location, ground conditions and the wave and tidal regime all affect risk — and must be considered in detail. And transport to the turbines is a particular risk to health and safety offshore.
Despite current pressure on the availability of vessels, it is vital that those chosen are fit for purpose, not just selected because they are available. This also applies to the equipment used for the project. The experience and training of the marine and project crew should be addressed, too, looking at the duration as well as the actual nature of the work.
A detailed brief should always be provided to any independent marine warranty surveyor, setting out the location, nature and duration of the project works together with any specific risks that have been identified in the risk assessment process. This will allow the surveyor to provide as accurate a review as possible for vessel and crew insurance purposes.
The Crown Estate is currently working with Round 3 development partners and other regulatory bodies to develop a vessel safety management guideline. This will provide developers with a framework for selecting and monitoring vessels during a project's development phase, and is expected to be published in the second quarter of 2011.
With multiple installations, a large number of personnel need to be transferred safely and effectively in all kinds of conditions. Transfer between vessels and from vessel to turbine or substation can be particularly hazardous. Operations often work into the night, adding poor visibility to wind and wave considerations. Adequate training, along with suitable personal protective equipment and emergency equipment, are indispensable.
As projects move further offshore, the actual installation methodology, including delivery of components and coordination of a large number of vessels, will be a major safety factor. While dedicated installation vessels are being built, an integrated lifecycle strategy that considers all stages of a project will help to select the most suitable vessels (see box).
We must also be careful not to stretch technology, asking smaller vessels to work further offshore outside their operating parameters or for longer periods than those for which they are typically crewed.
A comprehensive, site-specific emergency response plan is even more vital further from shore. As it may be several hours before emergency services can assist, a higher level of medical self-sufficiency is required and this should be reviewed with the main emergency services so that the procedures are fully integrated.
The industry is largely self-policing, as few health and safety codes exist. Industry body RenewableUK has been proactive in establishing forums and groups that represent developers and contractors, which have initiated the development of guidance documents. It is anticipated that this voluntary approach to good practice will continue.
RenewableUK and The Crown Estate collate data on accidents and incidents offshore, reviewing the information to identify any trends that can be quickly fed back into the industry. The industry also operates a voluntary system of safety alerts to flag specific issues.
RenewableUK has recently set up an Offshore Wind Energy subgroup to the Health and Safety Strategy Group, and The Crown Estate is constantly reviewing the unique issues and challenges of Round 3.
The Crown Estate also participates in conferences that include presentations and workshops about good practice for marine health and safety. As well as informing the industry generally, these allow individual companies to use shared lessons to keep training programmes up to date.
Operation and maintenance
The most significant aspect of safety for operations and maintenance of offshore wind farms is reliability of the components and systems, as well as remote controls and resets. The greater the reliability, the fewer risky operations and maintenance visits. Also, a well planned strategy that combines scheduled intervention with annual surveys during favourable conditions will substantially reduce the hazards that unplanned maintenance can entail.
While the offshore wind industry can learn from other offshore industries, it needs to develop a specifically wind-focused strategy. Evidence shows that the offshore sector is taking a responsible attitude to health and safety, but it is a live topic that is continuously evolving. Perhaps the most important element is the pooling of experience, challenges and best practice. Although such information can be perceived as sensitive, it is vital that learning is shared.
Captain Peter Hodgetts is marine health and safety champion at The Crown Estate, with particular responsibility for Round 3
all risks project lifecycle strategy
- Typically until now, the risks associated with an offshore wind power project have been developed according to its distinct phases of development, rather than with a view to the entire project life cycle.
- A more integrated approach would consider all the commercial aspects of the project, including the financing of proven technology versus perhaps larger, new-generation turbines.
- This broader approach would also look at the entire supply chain, particularly installation vessels that will significantly influence design and deployment strategy.