There is an old joke where a young lad asks “Grandad, did you have health and safety in your day?” to which grandad replies, “Of course. It was called common sense”.
There is a lot of truth in that joke. Essentially health and safety is about common sense, and part of the reason that the law and practice surrounding health and safety is the subject of so much ridicule is because what should be an exercise in common sense is often taken to silly levels which either assume we are all completely stupid, or recognises the fact that we are all completely stupid.
Common sense says we need to be able to recognise what factors contribute to safe and healthy working environments. Once these factors are identified, systems must be introduced to ensure that these factors are present to eradicate or at least control identified hazards.
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 (No. 10 of 2005) – (“the 2005 Act”) applies to employers and employees in all employments and to the self–employed. In keeping with its preventative (rather than curative) approach to occupational health and safety, it also has implications for persons who control places of work and those who supply articles or substances for use at work. This statutory duty of care also includes visitors to workplaces or those directly affected by the proximity of workplaces.
The 2005 Act contains provisions for securing and improving the safety, health and welfare for all workers. EU law has a major impact on Irish health and safety law, as Ireland is bound to implement the applicable EU Directives.
The 2005 Act applies to everybody, setting out general principles rather than industry specifics. However, the Regulations target specific industries, specific practices, and specific hazards. In other words, once you are familiar with the general provisions of the Act, it is important to find the Regulations that apply to your area of work, and make sure that you know and understand these Regulations, which are the ‘business end’ of safety law.
Some of the Regulations are all-embracing, like the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 299 of 2007), and more recently the Safety Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (S.I. No.445 of 2012).
Others are aimed at specific industries or activities, like the Safety Health and Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations 2013 (SI 291) or the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Quarries) Regulations 2008 (S.I. No. 28 of 2008).
Others are aimed at the use of certain substances, like the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Biological Agents) Regulations 2013, or the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Exposure to Asbestos)(Amendment) Regulations 2010 (S.I. No. 589 of 2010).
Finally, some Regulations aim to eradicate or control specific hazards that might be found at any workplace, like the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Control of Noise at Work) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 371 of 2006); Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Control of Vibration at Work) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 370 of 2006) and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Work at Height) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 318 of 2006).
In addition to these Regulations, which are law, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has also developed numerous Codes of Practice to cover particular activities or industries which are inherently hazardous and/or have a history of accidents causing severe injury or death. So, for example, there are Codes of Practice for dealing with biological and chemical agents; for roof work and working at heights; for general and specific electrical safety; for young people on farms; for the construction industry, and for working in confined spaces or underground. Details of all of these are published on the HSA website (http://www.hsa.ie/eng/).
Although these are not law as such, an employer/owner/lessee would need very compelling reasons for not following an applicable Code in the event of an accident at their workplace.
The dangers of wind farms
The media, both local and international, is full of stories about accidents and mishaps involving wind turbines.
We all know about the worker killed in France, the protestors killed in both Germany and France, and the enormous fires caused by turbines in Wales, Australia and California. There are also many local examples.
The Southern Star reported a fire at the Cappaboy Beg wind farm:
“Three units of Bantry Fire Service fought a blaze when one of ten turbines at Cappaboy Beg windfarm caught fire last week.”
Bantry Fire Station officer Ian Vickery reported:
“The blades on one of the turbines went on fire. One blade sheared off and landed 200m away, setting fire to forestry and another landed 50m away, setting fire to hill and gorse. The object was to keep the fire away from the forest.”
“One local resident said he had heard a lot of “grinding” from one of the turbines prior to the fire. Mr Vickery said a hill fire had endangered the turbines two years ago. The owner of the wind farm, Tim Buckley, declined to comment.”
Re News reported on 09/12/2013 that a blade snapped off a turbine at Corkermore Wind Farm, landing some distance away embedded in the ground.
Turbines have collapsed in Donegal. See http://cawtdonegal.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/a-year-since-turbine-collapse-and-the-secrecy-continues/.
See also the examples quoted by Michael Quinn in his “Submission to Review of Wind Energy Guidelines” at http://t.co/q3l58kqQTl.
As these wind farms continue to proliferate, it is inevitable that more and more of these incidents/accidents will occur in Ireland, and it is also inevitable that it is a matter of time before somebody is seriously hurt or, God forbid, killed.
In addition, there is now a substantial body of evidence relating to the health hazards associated with the subliminal noise and sunlight flicker of wind turbines, which endanger employees, visitors and those in close proximity (and by close I mean up to a mile away).
What is the current practice?
On the 4th February 2014 ESB Networks published a document entitled “INFORMATION PACK FOR THE CONNECTION OF GENERATOR PROJECTS” (Guidelines for Project Delivery Offer Acceptance to Market)(Document No. DOC-040214-BQQ). In other words, advice to wannabe windfarm owners and operators on how they can connect their latest windfarm to the national grid.
At 3.5 of this document, entitled “Project Safety Management”, the following is stated:
“These projects are complex and there are many interfaces along the way and these can and do change during the course of the project. It is essential that these interfaces are clearly defined and understood by all and that all understand their roles and responsibilities accordingly.
The following items must be defined at project kick –off and included in the Safety File.
• PSDP (Project Supervisor Design Stage)
• PSCS (Project Supervisor Construction Stage).”
In other words, the ESB recognises and explicitly links the design, installation and operation of a wind farm to existing Health & Safety Legislation, as these labels/titles are statutory in origin. See the responsibilities of the PSDS listed on the HSA web site at
“• Identify hazards arising from the design or from the technical, organisational, planning or time related aspects of the project;
• Where possible, eliminate the hazards or reduce the risks;
• Communicate necessary control measure, design assumptions or remaining risks to the PSCS so they can be dealt with in the safety and health plan;
• Ensure that the work of designers is coordinated to ensure safety;
• Organise co-operation between designers;
• Prepare a written safety and health plan for any project where construction will take more than 500 person days or 30 working days or there is a particular risk and deliver it to the client prior to tender;
• Prepare a safety file for the completed structure and give it to the client.”
It is clear from the above that the nominated PSDS is responsible for assessing the risk not only to employees and visitors, but also to occupational and recreational users of lands in proximity to each wind turbine, and ensuring that appropriate control measures are put in place to remove the risk altogether or at the very least reduce the residual risk to an acceptable level.
Furthermore, since a multiple wind turbine project is unlikely to be completed in 500 person-days, the PSDS is required to provide the client with a written safety and health plan prior to tender. See
Such an assessment and risk mitigation would need to take cognisance of manufacturer’s safety instructions. For example, the Vestas V90 Wind Turbine Manual prescribes an unsafe radius of 400m around each wind turbine.
It is clear that wind farms are indeed industrial generating stations that fall under the remit of the HSA. Why is it, then, that the HSA has not developed a Code of Practice for the windfarm industry? Indeed, why has the Minister not published bespoke Regulations governing windfarms, not only for the safety of the employees on these windfarms, but also for the safety of the communities in proximity to these windfarms?
I would ask that you write a letter to the Health and Safety Authority and ask those questions. The address is: The HSA, Head Office, The Metropolitan Building, James Joyce Street, Dublin 1. Its e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org .