Wind power generation is a more mature technology but one which faces challenges as it increasingly expands offshore. Similarly, a 2009 ‘Horizon Scanning’ Report by HSE envisages the large-scale roll-out of wave and tidal units around the UK coastline over the next 10-15 years. Notable projects include the London Array in the Thames Estuary (expected to become the largest wind farm in the world, with 341 turbines, when it is completed) and the E.ON West Orkney wave farm demonstrators.

What Health and Safety Laws apply?

By a 2009 amendment to the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (Application Outside Great Britain) Order 2001 the scope of the 1974 Act was extended to areas outside the UK’s territorial waters (which extend 12 miles from shore only). The Renewable Energy Zones, created under the Energy Act 2004, are now included . Accordingly, UK health and safety laws largely apply as normal to offshore wave and wind projects.

Construction, Design and Health and Safety Management

The construction and repair of offshore turbines and marine devices presents the greatest challenge to health and safety management - particularly as new generation turbines become bigger and taller. The harsh conditions of the offshore environment may also necessitate regular maintenance visits.

Offshore wind construction will almost always be notifi able to HSE under the Construction, Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2007, which imposes a wide range of duties on employers to plan, co-ordinate with contractors and assess design safety amongst other things. Several Approved Codes of Practice accompany the Regulations.

 What are the risks of wind and wave power generation?

HSE’s view is that existing Health and Safety legislation adequately covers the risks posed by offshore wind and wave technologies. In 2009 Horizon Scanning documents for wind and wave technologies, HSE listed the following as concerns in wind and wave projects:

  • Working with large equipment during construction and maintenance of installations.
  • Access to and egress from wind and marine energy installation and in particular, stepping on and off of boats.
  • Diving activities during construction and maintenance.
  • Work at height and contact with moving machinery.

Rarer risks include ice throw and turbine failure; ice and turbine fragments can travel through the air at velocity and for considerable distances.

 Industry Guidelines

HSE has considered publishing guidance on wind and wave power generation activities but to date, no comprehensive guide has been produced. Renewables UK, an industry body, has published guidelines for health and safety in the marine and wind sectors for some years now which are accessible online.

The 2010 Renewables UK wind energy guidelines include a 10 page appendix on access, egress, abnormal events and response for offshore wind turbine generators and updated guidance on lifting operations. Similar guidelines for the marine energy sector, covering both wave and tidal power, are also available.

Challenges for the Regulator?

 HSE are conscious that growth may stretch its resources, which are already being challenged by a 35% budget cut following the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010. However, it seems clear that growth in clean energy technologies is set to continue and it’s likely that many lessons in safety will be learned through experience as projects increasingly come online.