The PSA has been given supervisory responsibility for the safety of offshore wind power (OWP) on the Norwegian continental shelf. In a series of articles, we take a closer look at what OWP involves, risks associated with its development and operation, and how this new industry can be regulated. These reports are taken from our Dialogue magazine.

“OWP presents many of the same safety challenges as oil and gas,” explains Tove Lunde, chair of the Global Offshore Wind Health and Safety Organisation (G+).

“The big difference is the absence of hydrocarbons, but we have lifting and marine operations, work in enclosed spaces, high voltages, dropped objects, hand tools and work at a height.”

Originating in the UK, G+ was established after a period with several accidents and serious incidents in the wind power sector, both on land and offshore.

Duties delegated

New supervisory responsibility: Wind powers in place

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The industry and government therefore realised that a more structured approach to safety was required, along with closer collaboration between the companies.

“There was a definite need to join forces as an industry,” Lunde reports. “Since we put incident reporting in place among our members in 2014, no fatal accidents have – touch wood – been reported from our operations.”

Photo from the Nordsee-Ost offshore wind farm in the North Sea German sector
Photo from the Nordsee-Ost offshore wind farm in the North Sea German sector Photo: Scanpix

The systematic approach and methods applied to safety work in G+ has a number of parallels with the petroleum sector, including mapping of risk and broad collaboration.

Similarly, experience transfer and learning from incidents occupy a key place alongside incident reporting in the wind power industry’s work on safety.

The biggest OWP risks

Figures from G+ show that incidents related to marine operations and to crane and lifting work make the biggest contributions to the risk picture for OWP.

   The most serious injuries have the highest frequency on vessels (for personnel transport and accommodation, installation and so forth) and on the actual wind turbine.

Reporting

The present commitment by G+ members to reporting undesirable incidents in their operations makes it possible to see where these are concentrated and where safety efforts should be directed.

“Good data and statistics are a key focus,” says Lunde. “That gives us the facts we need to produce good analyses and identify causes, understand problems and recommend action.”

Harmonisation and quality assurance are important for drawing comparisons and conducting analyses, she adds.

“We’ve worked for a long time to harmonise across our members, and this becoming good. We see that both quality and reporting are increasing. Reports on near misses have also got better.”

Information on incidents is used to produce annual statistics showing trends in the level of safety, she says. Incident reporting forms the basis for developing best-practice documents.

“The G+ collaboration also makes it possible for new and smaller players to secure guidelines, standards and requirements,” Lunde explains.

“As a member, you’re required to reflect the standards, and we thereby contribute to raising the overall level. That’s an important goal for us.”

Design

One priority for G+ is to build health and safety into structures, with efforts made to identify improvements at the design stage for OWP projects. Various issues are attracting attention.

Both technical and organisational approaches are being pursued, and proposed improvements may concern specific changes to designs or amendments to standards, guidelines and best practice.

The goal is to reduce the number of incidents, improve efficiency and enhance the level of safety, and Lunde highlights lifting equipment as an example of innovative thinking.

“Davit cranes on the turbines are used to transfer equipment and tools from/to vessels. At one time, they were involved in many incidents such as crushed fingers and dropped objects.

“By taking a collective look at this, the companies have arrived at improved designs and operating procedures which mean fewer incidents from crane operation.”

Crucial

“Design is important, and getting involved at an early stage is crucial,” Lunde emphasises. “If you’re going to exert influence, it has to be during development work.

“The suppliers have traditionally been responsible for this with turbines. Once the design is chosen, less scope exists to make changes and you’re more or less stuck with what you’ve got.”

Turbine manufacturers occupy a key position in the industry, and play a central role in both designing their own equipment and in the development and operation of wind farms.

Increasing accountability and inclusion are thereby important arguments for getting the manufacturers to join G+. Siemens Gamesa is the first to have done so.

Learning

Dudgeon Wind Farm, UK Photo: Equinor

Another priority is learning from incidents. G+ has opted for the Toolbox solution – originally developed by the oil and gas sector – for sharing experience and exchanging information.

This makes it possible for companies to search in work processes and to extract information which clarifies problem areas.

“Openness and sharing of knowledge and experience are important,” Lunde emphasises, and notes that many players in the oil sector have very strong backgrounds.

“Equinor, my employer, has 50 years of petroleum experience, and our systems and way of working where safety is concerned are well established. We’re taking this with us into the wind power sector and the G+ collaboration.

“OWP developments are also relatively complex, and we draw heavily here on our expertise and experience from oil and gas. We couldn’t have done this without that knowledge.”

Decline

Figures from G+ show a steady decline in the number of registered personal injuries per million hours worked for the wind power sector between 2014 and 2018, from 6.2 to 4.5.

Unfortunately, Lunde reports, 2019 saw a rise to 5.5 – in part because the counting method was changed from the number of incidents to the number of injured people per incident.

“Combined with increased reporting, that explains a good deal of the negative trend – but not all,” Lunde says. “So this is definitely something we’ll be looking at more closely.”

She believes that the most important job in the future will be to ensure that the level of safety is maintained and continuously improved.

G+ in brief

The Global Offshore Wind Health and Safety Organisation (G+) is a non-commercial interest body which works to improve health and safety in the OWP industry.

Equinor is the only Norwegian participant in the association, which comprises operators/owners of OWP farms, suppliers and grid owners.

While G+ is currently concentrated in Europe, it is now growing globally through a branch in Asia and has ambitions for a corresponding expansion in the USA.

The organisation’s activities cover four main areas:

  • reporting data on incidents
  • guidance on good practice
  • “safe by design” workshops
  • learning from incidents.

Global

European companies and wind farms dominate G+ at the moment. As its name indicates, however, the organisation’s ambition is to become truly global.

From Walney offshore wind farm, UK
From Walney offshore wind farm, UK Photo: Scanpix

The OWP sector is expanding rapidly in both Asia and North America, and G+ is currently establishing a presence in both these markets.

“It’ll be crucial to maintain fundamental safety systems and build a culture for safety in these new regions as well,” Lunde affirms.

Differences

She also emphasises that, although OWP shares a number of common features with the petroleum industry, important differences exist in terms of both regime and economic preconditions.

“We must undoubtedly be willing to think a little differently. Health and safety is our top priority, but we must also develop our sector within prevailing parameters. That’s tougher than for oil and gas – and to a greater extent margin-driven.

“But we’ll be preserving what we’ve experienced and learnt about health and safety from the petroleum business – while also identifying cost drivers to get more safety for our money.”

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