Evolving Workforce and Safety Practices for Wind Farms

The renewable revolution has been a catalyst for the wind energy market during recent years, with the global wind market growing at an incredible pace. It’s estimated that over 1.1 million people work in the sector, with the role of “wind turbine technician” said to be the fastest growing job in the U.S. and Australia.

The World Embraces Wind Energy

The job growth is hardly surprising. The Global Wind Energy Council recently reported that 28 countries worldwide have more than 1 GW of installed wind capacity, and that number is still on the incline. The next couple of years are looking positive for installations, especially across the U.S. and Mexico. That’s despite market trepidation caused by the Trump administration’s potential effect on the renewable energy sector.

Several developments are worth watching. For example, Vestas has a number of manufacturing, and engineering, procurement, and construction projects on its plate in the U.S. The recent merger between Gamesa and Siemens should be interesting given Gamesa’s strong offshore fleet and Siemens’ position in the wind energy market. In addition to these, there are a lot of larger owners, operators, and developers looking more dominant, like EDP Renewables, which plans to add between 400 MW and 500 MW of power each year to both new and existing facilities for the next four or five years.

As a result of the market success so far, the U.S. has seen carbon emissions fall by 3% and the economy grow by 1.6%. The wind sector is poised for more growth, particularly now that tax credits for both solar and wind are being extended until 2020. There is also a positive outlook globally, with the likes of India and Turkey dubbed important markets to watch this year, and cost reductions for 3-MW turbines on the horizon, which could spur future projects.

Developing Strong Safety Practices

As the industry grows, so do the risks. In a once self-regulating environment with few legal requirements, the wind sector has evolved. Working on wind projects is now classified as a high-risk job. Maintenance employees are in the vicinity of both high- and low-voltage equipment, and many turbine technicians are required to perform heavy-lifting activities on a regular basis.

With continual changes in legislation and the constant introduction of innovative emerging technologies, the implementation of health and safety procedures across wind farms is clearly business critical for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), especially as projects stint towards more rural areas. How can we approach safety standards as a means of minimizing these risks?

Ultimately, it’s about a shift in attitudes, working to instill a culture of workforce wellbeing in order to prevent injuries universally. We’ve already seen a number of major players in the industry begin to offer training and certifications, and as this safety culture becomes a more weighted priority, requirements for OEM certifications will become more and more competitive. This has come as a direct result of trade associations actively pushing legislation and procedures as a means of improving health and safety on wind farms.

Whilst many health and safety regulations are subject to location directives, such as the European Framework Directive on Safety and Health at Work adopted in 1989, there are a number of ways to safeguard employees working on wind farms aside from what may seem to be the obvious, personal protective equipment.

As previously discussed, endorsing training standards are fast becoming one of the more effective ways to ensure that health and safety procedures are adopted internationally, enhancing health and safety awareness throughout workforces, and instilling the safety culture that is becoming more significant to the wind sector.

The prominence of emergency response training for the renewable industry is on the rise with the industry working with governments, regulators, and emergency services to ensure that they are fully prepared for emergencies that may arise. A prime example of this is the basic obligation for BOSIET (basic offshore safety induction and emergency training) for global offshore projects. The training program not only consists of emergency response training and offshore safety instruction, but it also details safety assessment requirements. The program has, in turn, driven up demand for the skillset.

All companies seek to deploy fully qualified safety professionals across wind farm projects as a means of mitigating hazards. From maintaining all relevant documentation to writing incident reports and eliminating or controlling hazards, the specialists manage safety practices throughout the entirety of the project. These roles are integral to wind farms, creating a safe working environment and ensuring safe work practices for construction, manufacturing, and operations and maintenance activities.

As the sector progresses to keep up with the emerging energy economy, health and safety procedures will evolve too. The winds of change may be causing a stir across the energy world as it stands, but what we know for sure is that the industry will remain committed to delivering a safe and sustainable environment for its workforce, regardless of these transformations. ■

Jack Rawcliffe is managing director of JDR Energy, an international manpower provider for the energy sector.

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