Are windfarms safe?

burning turbine

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
• Client
• PSDP (Project Supervisor Design Stage)
• PSCS (Project Supervisor Construction Stage).”

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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
http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Your_Industry/Construction/Construction_Duty_Holders/Project_Supervisor_Design_Process/.

These include:

“• 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
http://www.hsa.ie/eng/Publications_and_Forms/Publications/Construction/Guidelines_on_Procurement_Const_regs_2006.pdf

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 wcu@hsa.ie .

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from practice in 2002 to take up a full-time lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). He is an accredited and practising mediator and is busy writing a book, with Dr Sinead Conneely, on Mediation in Ireland. His current interest is Ireland’s energy policy and its impact on the people and the environment. He is also researching the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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5 Responses to Are windfarms safe?

  1. See “Study and development of a methodology for the estimation of the risk and harm to persons from wind turbines” at http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr968.pdf

  2. Pat Swords says:

    Worker protection has developed, not just in relation to improvements in technology and economic conditions, but also in relation to society’s reluctance to accept unnecessary risks and the inevitable consequences. The latter is by nature a question of politics and culture and will vary based on regional and administrative characteristics. However, in what we perceived to be the developed world, particularly in the EU, a comprehensive system was put in place in the last two decades. We know how to control these risks to tolerable levels and we have demonstrated that we can repeatedly do so.

    However, then came along the cowboys and in this regard I am highlight the ‘Green’ industry and those who were duty bound to regulate it in the impartial manner according to the legal framework already derived. It’s not just wind, but if one looks at the waste recycling and composting sectors, the risk from biological agents, such as aspergillus, is horrendous and way above what any sort of properly run ethical workplace should be exposed to, not to mention elevated levels of such microbial pathogens in the environment local to such facilities.

    Who are the worst cowboys? Clearly those in regulatory agencies, who blatantly ignored the breaches of established standards and allowed this situation and such ‘Green’ businesses to reach the position they are now in. Let’s not beat around the bush here, by failing to ensure the necessary standards are applied, a competitive advantage is being given, which simply would not be tolerated by the authorities, if it was to become the norm for worker safety in the traditional industry sector. There is also a second key aspect to this, namely safety culture. If you do not have it, not only will failings emerge with respect to your own employees’ safety, but failings which will impact on the public which surround your activities.

    The below report from European Agency for Safety and Health at Work on Occupational Safety and Health in the Wind Energy sector is damming, not least as it describes a workplace environment, which simply wouldn’t be tolerated and allowed in regular industry. However, it’s prefaced by an overarching political direction described so clearly in Section 1 of the report – the same old story, a different ‘law’ applies to the Green sector, as they are so absolutely and utterly critical to the survival of all of us on this planet and the children to come:

    https://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/reports/occupational-safety-and-health-in-the-wind-energy-sector

    The German Statutory Accident Insurers (DGUV) will pay out of their statutory fund for incidences of occupational accidents or occupational illnesses. As a result they keep meticulous records and produce an awful lot of guidance and reports:

    http://www.dguv.de/en/News/Background/Working-safely-with-renewable-energies/Wind-power-installations/index.jsp

    For instance the report below in German from the early 2000s on problems with working on epoxies, including a significant number of problem cases with turbine blade manufacture, where workers were suffering skin diseases within a few months of taking employment, basically because the EU legislative requirements documented above by Neil were ignored. As the reports says, only a fraction of the workers who suffered skin problems had been subject to a hand protection plan at work. Yet the report above from OSHA is still documenting in 2013 how these skin problems are occurring, which is a damming indictment that the necessary measures were not applied.

    http://www.dguv.de/Projektdatenbank/ffff0114/pr9114.pdf

    They currently seem to be taking a long time to update their 2006 BGI 657 guidance on wind turbines, which would lead one to suspect problems (not unpredictable). See below for those of you who speak German.

    http://www.linowsee.de/media/files/fachtagung-windenergie-2013/Behnke.pdf

    If we take working in such ‘dirty and ungreen’ facilities as fossil fuels, then on such construction projects it is not uncommon to exceed a million manhours without a lost time accident. Something which doesn’t happen (no pun intended) by accident and requires, culture, resources, etc. We have even reached the situation with the offshore sector for this industry, that the accident rate is lower than those who are sales representatives and travelling frequently by car.

    It would be useful if somebody actually started looking into these figures, the DGUV have a lot of statistics, such as you can see below:

    http://www.dguv.de/medien/inhalt/zahlen/documents/dguvstatistiken2011e.pdf

    They know exactly how many accidents are occurring in each industry sector and what those type of accidents are – they have to pay out on them.

  3. I received this communication from a Danish engineer. As the message was in Danish I have translated it to the best of my ability:
    “As an engineer I find it extraordinary that Ireland has added so much capacity without any increase in output. In the last 3 years wind penetration of the domestic market increased by .45%. So about €800m extra investment is being financed by the same amount income from output as was achieved in 2011. No wonder the PSO is going up. I wrote a little spreadsheet, 2 years ago, modeling projected output up until 2025 and output moves up and down slightly and they propose to finance and commission 4000 megawatts of extra wind turbines out of the same amount of production income as was achieved in 2011, assuming no large price increase, give or take a percent or so. Most of these wind farms are going to run into financial difficulties soon if it is not the case already. The need to build 2000 megawatts of extra inter connector capacity to dump the surplus or Ireland will have regular 2 or 3 day black outs. It only works in Denmark because of all their interconnectors and Swedish and Norwegian hydro power. If that is not bad enough the Danes on occasion have to pay the Norwegians and Swedes up to €200 per megawatt hour to haul their waste away.
    The whole system is corrupt and crazy. They have not a clue what they are doing.”

  4. Pingback: Wind Farms Are Dangerous – and NOTHING is being done about it. | The Law is my Oyster

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