Leaving no stone unturned!

Published:  06 May, 2015

There are a number of different hazards facing a firm which is looking to build an offshore wind farm. ODEE reports.

With huge amounts of heavy lifting involved, dozens of different contracting companies working together and the prospect of bad weather, it is vital health and safety is at the forefront of planning.

With that in mind, energy giant RWE Innogy didn’t want to leave any stone unturned when they planned work on the huge Gwynt Y Môr site in North Wales. The 160-turbine wind farm has a capacity of 576MW – 3.6MW per turbine – making it the second largest in the world.

With all of the turbines now constructed, and half of them operational, RWE is looking back with pride on its excellent health and safety record, with no fatalities or life-changing injuries – despite the obvious potential dangers.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) was invited to take a look at the site, and to hear how RWE had gone about keeping workers out of harm’s way.

Simon Hatson, a committee member of IOSH’s Offshore group with a particular experience of wind farms, and Lawrence Bamber, chair of the organisation’s North Wales branch, attended the visit and were impressed with what they saw.

They were given a presentation of the different phases of the construction programme, from manufacturing the components to installing them with specialist construction vessels.

They were then shown around some of the site, at the Port of Mostyn in North Wales, before heading out to sea on a crew transfer vessel to view the site with their own eyes. The turbines are located more than 13km off the coast, in Liverpool Bay. The depth of the water there varies between 12 and 28 metres. The entire site covers an area of 80km².

From the start RWE were determined to ensure the safety of all of those involved. From the beginning RWE worked closely with Trevor Johnson, from the Health and Safety Executive’s Renewable Energies Team.

Building an offshore wind farm by its very nature produces a host of potential risks. For example, more than one million tonnes of equipment had to be lifted, the weather was often bad and having more than 100 different contracting companies meant there was potential difficulty.

The project has amassed more than nine million man hours, including 4.5 million man hours offshore without a lost-time incident. During the height of the construction period, 64 vessels were out in the field at one time – more than in many busy shipping lanes.

Offshore, the project’s dedicated Emergency Response Teams responded to 36 incidents which required an assessment from a medical specialist. The majority of the incidents were health related and not a result of work activities.

The IOSH members were impressed to hear how the potential dangers have been overcome. Hatson said: “This site has a fantastic health and safety record, which is great to hear. This should be used as a benchmark for other projects in the future.

“They have had some very difficult challenges which they have had to deal with. These include heavy lifts, diving operations, working in restricted spaces and working in an offshore environment where the usual onshore facilities aren’t always available.”

Planning for the health and safety aspect started well before offshore construction began. What became apparent to RWE was that they had to look at the health aspect as much as safety, which impressed the IOSH team.

In 2011, a team from the project visited the London Olympics facilities, ahead of the 2012 Games, to see how staff there were kept safe and healthy. That site had been commended for the way this was being done.

Some of the Olympic construction team then visited Gwynt Y Môr to make some suggestions, which included a three-point strategy for occupational health. This strategy was centred on three W’s. Firstly, the “Worker” (including medicals, health surveillance and access to health information), secondly the “Workplace” (checking facilities and work activities to ensure that health issues were identified and managed) and thirdly “Wellbeing” (the promotion of health, lifestyle and work/life balance).

Following the visit to the Olympics facilities, RWE identified that large construction projects often have a high risk of health-related and cardiac issues, with many workers being middle-aged men working long hours away from home.

An occupational health nurse was on site at least one day a week to provide personal, confidential consultations and give free healthcare advice. The project also ran specific campaigns such as bowel cancer awareness, stress awareness and healthy hearts.

Hatson added: “The focus on occupational health and their people, bearing in mind the age range, was fantastic. Often in the planning phase there tends to be more focus on safety than health, but as the records from this project show, health as was anticipated by RWE was a bigger problem.”

Another complicating factor was the number of different contractors working on the scheme. RWE appointed nearly 100 contracting companies, 26 of them principal contracting companies.

Some of the early work was done overseas, including the manufacturing of various components in factories across Europe.

But, refusing to leave anything to chance, RWE sent staff out to those factories to ensure that health and safety was being appropriately considered and that working conditions were suitable.

RWE also had to ensure that contractors coming to work in North Wales from abroad were following UK health and safety standards. At the Port of Mostyn alone, up to 250 workers were on site each day, many of them different nationalities.

One of the approaches to raise awareness of health and safety amongst an international workforce was to set up an awards system for good practice.

Sye Channer, Health Safety, Environment and Security Advisor on the project, said: “A lot of workers were not used to UK health and safety and how we do things.

“People said that the safety was the best that they have encountered. We hope that the culture here will be transferred to other projects.”

Darren Tape, Health Safety, Environment and Security Manager at Gwynt Y Môr, said RWE had been determined from the start to ensure they were blazing a trail for health and safety in wind farm construction.

He added: “The visit to the Olympic site was inspirational. Its focus on occupational health was industry leading and prompted us to review our own occupational health strategy.

“For us the health and safety aspect was not just about being able to prevent and respond to incidents, it was about demonstrating that we care.

“What pleased me was the level of engagement from all of the contractors. We hope we have changed mind sets for contractors going elsewhere.”

Gwynt y Môr’s capacity is enough to power up to 400,000 homes. Each individual Siemens turbine has a capacity of 3.6MW. The energy is transported from two offshore substations via export cables and through onshore underground cables to a new substation near St Asaph Business Park.

The only wind farm which is bigger is London Array in the Thames Estuary, which has 175 turbines.

Bamber was hugely impressed with what he saw and heard on the visit to Gwynt y Môr. He said: “As chair of IOSH’s North Wales branch it is great to have such wonderful facilities like these in the area.

“It shows how it should be done and how things will be done in the future. I would like to see other similar places taking a leaf out of RWE’s book and following the fine examples they have set.”

IOSH is the Chartered body for health and safety professionals. With 44,000 members in 100 countries, we’re the world’s biggest professional health and safety organisation.

IOSH was founded in 1945 and is a registered charity with international NGO status.

For further information please visit: www.iosh.co.uk

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