According to a recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency, by 2020 wind energy (together with solar power) is predicted to become a consistently cheaper source of electricity generation than traditional fossil fuels. Margins are falling across the rapidly changing sector, with larger turbines slashing the cost of offshore wind farms. Consolidation is now ongoing throughout the industry supply chain as fierce competition, price pressure, and a squeeze on prices caused by reductions in state subsidies all encourage more mergers and acquisitions. Against this background, the Global Wind Organisation (GWO) recently issued its 2017 report on industry training statistics, showing that more wind turbine technicians than ever are completing or refreshing the non-profit body’s Basic Safety Training Standard (BSTS) qualifications. This news is useful to GWO’s CEO, Jakob Lau Holst, whose organisation is charged with overseeing health and safety in the increasingly globalised sector.

It is Holst’s job to ensure that the international rush for wind doesn’t come at the expense of its work force. He wants to prove that the industry is one that doesn’t just jettison its commitment to health and safety once it starts to rival traditional fossil fuel industries like oil and gas in terms of profitability. Happily, since Holst’s institution launched its global database of wind technician health and safety training records in October 2016, a total of 137,372 such reports have been uploaded by over 53,000 people from 135 countries. This suggests that his message, and that of the GWO, is being heard in many places.

In the details

Officially known as the Global Wind Industry Training Records Database, or WINDA, this service creates separate profiles for industry employers, certified training providers, and technicians who have earned a BSTS certificate.

It is intended to allow potential employers to verify the exact qualifications of workers who have attended GWO training courses, and to confirm the credentials of instructors claiming the title of GWO certified training providers.

This lets wind power companies confirm that their technicians, and their teachers, are all accredited to GWO’s standards when it comes to health and safety. WINDA also provides an increasing amount of comparative data for GWO to study about the state of the wind power sector and its workforce worldwide.

“Our objective here at GWO is to ensure health and safety never gets left behind by the industry, especially when it is growing quickly and the cost of energy is falling,” Holst says. “We develop the safety training standards deployed by major employers in wind so that high levels of competence can be expected up and down the supply chain.”

The not-for-profit body also provides employers who visit its website with an interactive map that lets them search for certified health and safety instructors by country and city. It even shows them where to find training companies that can offer their employees a specific (usually more advanced) GWO course, which a company might need for an unusual or challenging project that goes beyond the normal conditions found in the industry.

The group strives to be a one-stop shop for the wind power sector in the area of health and safety, through resources like WINDA and its website, and through proactive efforts to spread its message to new regions of the world that need more guidance to meet best practice standards.

“[More than 100] countries have so far trained technicians to GWO standards,” Holst says. “In many cases, we are helping to upskill a region’s health and safety framework, by ‘training the trainers’, and helping third-party auditors to establish themselves in emerging markets like China.”

Based in the offices of the Danish Wind Industry Association, Copenhagen, GWO was first set up by 13 leading wind power companies in 2009. Since its members are employers, they are the legal duty holders who are expected to ensure that any technicians working in a wind turbine environment are suitably trained. Ideally, this is always done to a globally recognised standard of safety competence.

GWO’s work as an umbrella oversight group stems from this double perception. Its existence allows industry safety standards to be delivered efficiently across a competitive market by independent GWO-certified training providers.

This process plays a large part in delivering the industry a skilled workforce that can operate in a safe environment, despite the falling cost of energy.

“[Of course] regulation of health and safety is at the behest of national governments and local legislation,” Holst says. “GWO’s role is [just] to provide training standards that meet best practice. As a result, our standards are always implemented in step with local regulations, and that is the way it should be. For example, the ‘working at height module’ of the GWO Basic Safety Training Standard expects technicians to refresh their training every two years. In Germany, local legislation requires this every year.”

Benefit in kind

The sector sees GWO standards as having a major benefit for its supply chain, one that helps these companies meet their legal obligations to train staff against the dangers they may encounter on the job. If the group didn’t exist, then every installation service company would have to train its staff according to each customer’s unique requirements, from the ground up.

Health and safety requirements would quickly get bogged down in conflicting messages. But with GWO able to represent the wind industry’s baseline for generic safety training, suppliers can train and certify their technicians up to an industry standard, and do so much more efficiently and effectively.

At present, Holst says, there are three standards – Basic Safety Training (BST), Basic Technical Training (BTT) and Basic Safety Training Refresher (BSTR). “Independent training providers are certified by third-party certification bodies to deliver training according to our criteria,” he adds. “In 2017, more than 44,000 technicians were trained in BST and BSTR. The BTT became an expected training for all new technicians employed by members from 31 March 2018.” When its members were creating GWO framework, they estimated that up to 30% of their entry-level safety training was generic to a wind turbine environment and could be standardised.

Many companies realised they would see far less duplication between different types of entry-level training once everything was covered by a universal set of specifications. The validity of a GWO training certificate is now recognised precisely because it meets a constantly updated global consensus on health and safety training. The group released the sixth version of its criteria for training providers in April, which will go into effect from October this year.

“GWO got to this stage by giving members a platform to collaborate,” Holst says. “They share evidence on key safety risks and design standards to help train and mitigate those risks. We have four new standards in development right now and I would hope that over time the industry adopts this approach on the understanding that where knowledge is shared, progress can be made.”

Where the wind industry has spread to new parts of the globe, GWO has followed. Among other places, the sector is growing rapidly in China, some other areas of east Asia, and on the eastern seaboard of the US. GWO has had to move with the times in order to stay relevant to the changing composition of the sector and the concerns of its newer members.

“GWO is pleased to count two Chinese manufacturers within its membership and the region is one of our top priorities,” Holst adds. “We’ve made good progress recently, developing the infrastructure to see GWO training delivered in this huge market. In March, we held our latest auditor workshop in Shenyang to bring local certification bodies up to speed.

“This is essential to help certify the many independent training providers who will be delivering GWO standards. A trio of training providers have been certified in China with many more expected over the coming months and years.”

Meanwhile, GWO-approved instructors in countries such as Turkey and Mexico have increased their amount of training substantially. Highlighting the emergence of significant wind power markets outside of Europe, the two countries represented almost 5% of the total WINDA reports gathered in the first quarter of 2018. The proportion of total training provided in the leading ten countries combined fell from 89 to 84% in the same period.

Information like this shows how GWO is now a truly international organisation, representing a universal health and safety provider to a mature global industry. It is one that is projected to surpass $170 billion by 2024, according to a recent study by Global Market Insights.

With GWO training standards now applicable to the majority of the wind industry and across countries, Holst says his organisation will safeguard the interests of its employers and their employees equally in the tough times ahead.

“We want wind power to be recognised as the first heavy industry in history to put health and safety first as a defining factor in its development,” Holst says.