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Question of the Week: How safe is onshore wind?

WORLDWIDE: There has been no reported fatality on an onshore wind site in well over a year. Windpower Monthly speaks to DNV GL and SgurrEnergy about how safe the industry now really is.

Question: Without a reported fatality in over a year, does this mean onshore wind is safer?

Simon Bryars, head of section asset management, DNV GL

Over the last two decades the onshore wind industry has transformed from a pioneering insurgent technology to an established industry working alongside the conventional generators. Over this period two main learning curves have allowed the industry to rapidly become much safer: design and behaviour.

The evolution of wind turbine design has benefited from a feedback loop from operations to design teams, allowing better safety to be "baked into" new turbines. Examples include the evolution of fall-arrest systems, the introduction of lifts, automated greasing and improved ergonomics.

Behaviour has also played a significant role. Twenty years ago would you have gone on a "working at height" course prior to climbing a turbine? The introduction of recognised training courses now provide staff with the required skills to complete their work safely. Adoption of national wind turbine safety rules in some leading markets has meant common operating processes have been developed across fleets of turbines and maintenance contractors.

Is there still room for improvement? Always... The industry needs to continue to improve designs. Owners and operators need to work even more closely with maintenance contractors to ensure all tasks are being approached in a safe manner. Complacency is our only enemy.

Paul Taylor, health and safety manager, SgurrEnergy

Since the UK commercial onshore wind industry’s inception in the 1990s it has taken great strides forwards in terms of health and safety performance. Experience and lessons learned played a huge part in early successes in the industry, and the introduction of improved legislation, as well as trade association support, have played a part in ensuring continual improvement.

There’s now greater ownership by developers, resulting in increased expectations placed on the supply chain, delivering a better standard of turbines and supporting infrastructure design.

Despite recent successes, the industry’s journey is not complete — there is always room for improvement.

Now, we need to turn our attention to encouraging continued development and improvement of specific safety procedures to add value to the tasks being carried out. The standard and quality of supervisors on projects can be crucial to success and, as an industry, we need to invest in this area to ensure consistently high standards.

Projects come in all shapes and sizes, but a challenging environment is common. Specific standards and awareness of risks faced by plant operators is paramount and will improve project safety. 

The renewables industry has naturally adopted an analytical culture, but the key to health and safety excellence lies in changing mind sets and the adoption of a proactive culture.

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