The Offshore Wind Innovation Hub (OWIH) has announced that it will now look at health and safety as part of its assessment of the technology needs for the offshore wind sector, and will prioritise accordingly.
NS Energy reported on the change, which marks the first time that the OWIH has said it will specifically focus on the health and safety needs of the sector. This is important because the OWIH’s mission is to “coordinate across the entire innovation landscape for offshore wind in the UK”.
It not only explores what technologies and innovations are required to help the sector grow and fulfil its potential but also what funding opportunities are available for companies operating in the sector.
Minimising the amount of time people need to spend offshore working on wind farms has several meaningful benefits for operators. Aside from improving the overall health and safety of the workforce, it also reduces operating costs.
At a time when offshore wind is now competing with fossil fuels in terms of the cost of production, it’s important to minimise operating costs as much as possible to ensure that it continues to be an essential element of the energy mix, both in the UK and elsewhere around the world.
The way the OWIH works is to set challenges to industry to try and develop the tools and technology that will support the future growth of the sector. This announcement means that the innovation needs set by the OWIH will now have to be scored against health and safety, along with the existing metrics.
Speaking to the publication, Dr Stephen Wyatt, Research and Innovation Director at Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult, which is one of the two organisations behind OWIH, said that this renewed focus on health and safety is important.
“Health and safety must continue to be at the heart of our sector and should be a key factor in the types of new innovations being embraced by the sector,” he asserted.
Dr Wyatt added: “It is fitting that with the OWIH Roadmaps we now take these considerations into account when assessing the future priorities of our sector.”
Of course, it will be some time before any new innovations in this area make it to the sector on a wide scale, so in the meantime, you need to ensure all of your staff who work in an offshore wind environment have completed the appropriate GWO courses.
Another area of the energy industry that could stand to learn from this approach is oil and gas. An article for Engineering & Technology recently suggested that oil and gas firms aren’t doing enough to adopt the latest technology to benefit the safety of workers.
The news provider argued that, although the oil and gas sector was once at the forefront of digital adoption and innovation, it has been “slow to exploit artificial intelligence and machine learning in the area of health and safety”.
It cited a report by McKinsey & Company, which suggested that while the oil and gas industry was one of the most pioneering in digitisation in the 1980s and ‘90s, digital advancements since then have been slow and largely carried out in silos.
As a result, the whole process isn’t digitised end-to-end, which means it’s missing out on useful technologies that would benefit worker health and safety. The report also noted that, in many areas, the industry “relies on legacy technologies”.
But this could change, and with it could bring about a transformation in the sector, if the industry adopts some of the latest technology like 5G networks and artificial intelligence.
The news provider revealed that, in the past, the oil and gas industry has generated a lot of data, but has used very little of it. The introduction of more advanced technology and new sensor technology is set to change that though because it will allow this data to be analysed locally with very little lag time.
“This translates into real-world advancements that can lead to better health, safety and security for a crew using smart sensors, poisonous fume detectors, IP cameras and vibration sensors, to name a few,” the publication asserted.
Wearable technology is one area that will bring significant improvements to the energy industry, as it allows companies to monitor workers and their locations in real-time.
However, this isn’t the only way in which health and safety can be improved. Using the latest technology to carry out remote maintenance operations or physical inspections, negating the need for someone to go and do one in person, can mean that workers are kept safer and have to spend less time in potentially dangerous environments.
There are challenges in the oil and gas sector when it comes to the adoption of this kind of technology, despite the obvious benefits. “To reap the benefits of technology advancement, oil and gas companies need to learn to trust AI while at the same time retaining accountability for any actions arising from its use or misuse,” the article stated.
This is also true of the offshore wind sector, although this industry doesn’t have the legacy systems that are problematic in the oil and gas sector, it has evolved in recent years alongside this new technology.
Focusing on worker health and safety is always important, but especially so at this time of the year when the weather can be more changeable and also more dangerous. THSP Risk Management recently pointed to forecasts UK forecasts during the winter, noting that the country could well experience its coldest winter in a decade.
While offshore wind operators will no doubt do all they can to minimise the need for workers to carry out any work on the turbines at this time of the year if at all possible, that doesn’t account for the need for unexpected maintenance or repairs to be made.
THSP Risk Management highlighted some of the steps that firms in all industries should be taking if they have employees who have to work outdoors. At the top of the list is ensuring that everyone has suitable clothing to keep them warm, as well as the right personal protective equipment.
Layering is essential to help keep the body warm. This should also be used on hands, feet and the head, the website asserted, recommending a minimum of three layers be worn by anyone who’s working outdoors.
It’s also important to make sure people work in pairs so that there is always someone on hand to monitor their co-worker and notice when they need to take a break.
Scotland and the north of England are where many of the UK’s offshore wind farms are located, and this region is expected to take the brunt of the cold weather over this period, as it does every year.
The Weather Company has predicted that the nation will see its coldest winter in a decade, with temperatures plummeting to -13 degrees C.
Head of Meteorological Operations at The Weather Company, Leon Brown, explained why they are expecting this winter to be especially cold. “Solar activity is at a minimum this winter. Air pressure patterns are expected to allow cold arctic air to affect Britain,” he commented.
Meanwhile, chief meteorologist at the firm Todd Crawford revealed that the UK is approaching the solar minimum, noting that the last time this occurred we experienced two very cold winters in 2009/10 and 2010/11.
The article for TSHP Risk Management noted that as well as the potential problems cold can cause in terms of workers’ health, it also creates other hazards.
Ice and snow can make walkways treacherous, and mean that slips, trips and falls are more likely in outdoor work environments. These kinds of weather conditions can also make it more difficult for staff to travel to and from work.
The key to dealing with this kind of cold and wintery weather is to be prepared. As with any health and safety risks, it is paramount that you have plans in place to deal with every eventuality, as well as a protocol people can follow should something go wrong is essential.
But if an incident does occur, it’s important to factor any learnings into revised future plans. This is according to Mikael Welinder, Head of Safety and Health at Scania, who recently told SHP Online that the business always looks to learn from past mistakes.
He said that having an open and honest culture around health and safety is essential, as this is what allows people to feel confident discussing incidents, or potential incidents. A culture based on positive health and safety conversations can make a real difference to staff attitudes and morale.
Mr Welinder also stressed that even if it’s difficult to impart that culture across diverse groups of employees around the world, that doesn’t mean a business should give up and stop trying to improve things.