There are 16 commercial offshore wind farms, representing 4.9GW of capacity, under construction in Europe. In the first half of this year, more than 200 new offshore turbines were connected to the grid, with almost 300 more installed and awaiting connection. Even if these figures show a slowing rate of construction, they leave little doubt over how important offshore wind is considered as part of the future energy matrix.

These huge construction projects involve unique risks, largely because of the difficulties of working far from shore, where emergency services are out of reach and factors such as the weather create an often unpredictable working environment. It is no surprise, then, that such great emphasis is placed on health and safety.

"The level of safety training across the industry is better and can be managed more efficiently, which frees health and safety resources to work on others areas, creating big time savings for organisations putting up new offshore sites."

Although the wind industry has a good track record on safety, its major players have come together to find ways in which they can cooperate more effectively to improve working environments. The Global Wind Organisation (GWO), which was set up in 2009, has become the forum for such efforts, and its work has culminated in the setting of common standards for training and emergency procedures.

Shooting the breeze on safety
"The companies in the GWO have a high level of professionalism and take the issue very seriously," says Jakob Lau Holst, COO of the Danish Wind Industry Association (DWIA). "They are pleased with the level of health and safety in the industry, but always want to do better.

"The biggest risk is working offshore. This is true of any industry with deepsea operations, but working inside a turbine is inherently unsafe unless people are properly trained and have the right safeguards."

The GWO is a non-profit organisation that brings together the biggest wind turbine owners and manufacturers. Its members are Acciona, AES, DONG Energy, E.ON, Fred Olsen, Gamesa, GE, Repower, Siemens Wind Power, Statoil, Suzlon, Vattenfall and Vestas. Together, they represent a vast resource of knowledge and experience that is brought together in the forum provided by the GWO, which is currently hosted by the DWIA to serve as an impartial institution for gathering information.
Denmark is a natural home for the GWO, given the country’s role at the forefront of wind power. It was the first country to fully embrace wind energy – a process that began in the 1970s – and is home to some of the biggest names in turbine production, finance, installation and project development.

"The existence of the GWO ensures that the industry takes care of its members," says Holst. "Companies want to have a lower number of incidents and to keep their workers safe. They formed the GWO to ensure they instructed their staff in the same way and could ensure that training had taken place, not only for their own workers, but also for their suppliers.

"Before the GWO, one company might work on another company’s project and hire manpower from another local company. So, you would have workers from a local company working for a contractor that, in turn, was working on a third company’s project, which would raise an issue about who was responsible for safety training.

"Each company would do its own training according to its own standards, which might mean that workers did three different, but similar, programmes. That doesn’t improve safety, it just means workers spend more time on the ground."

Safety plus efficiency
The GWO’s Standard for Basic Safety Training covers the essential aspects of first aid, manual handling, fire awareness, working at height and sea survival. The standard ensures that training is not only more consistent, but also more efficient.

"Training to three slightly different standards for a single project creates uncertainty about which of the three similar processes to follow," explains Holst. "With the GWO, the majority of training is the same, but it is consistent with the standards of all employers on a project. It means we can control what happens with third party suppliers of training. Member companies have a framework agreement that the GWO standards are the minimum level required, so suppliers must meet that standard.

"Ultimately, the market will only employ workers who are trained to that GWO standard. The level of safety training across the industry is better and it can be managed more efficiently because there is no duplication. That frees health and safety resources to work on improving safety in other areas where it is needed. There are potentially big time savings for a organisations putting up new offshore sites."

Quality where it counts
In such a precarious working environment as an offshore turbine installation project, it is essential to ensure the quality of safety training, and the members of the GWO were quickly able to reach a consensus about the required components of the new industry standard.

"The GWO’s Standard for Basic Safety Training covers the essential aspects of first aid, manual handling, fire awareness, working at height and sea survival."

The GWO also provides a vital forum in which to discuss changes to the standard – the latest version of which was published in March 2014 – as companies learn from their experience of offshore construction.

"People will be better informed and will only need to be trained once in each aspect of health and safety, as they will reach a consistent standard," remarks Holst. "It is never straightforward to agree a standard, but it is clear what the risks are, and the GWO have a shared analysis of the risks of working offshore and working inside a turbine, so they were able to develop a list of criteria from which it was easy to satisfy everyone’s risk assessments.

"Furthermore, the GWO provides a forum through which additional criteria can be added as necessary."

A single standard for the industry
The GWO standard not only brings together the experience of its 13 members, which together represent a substantial proportion of the world’s expertise in offshore wind, but also sets a benchmark for the global industry and for suppliers wishing to work with the world’s leading companies.

Representing the sum of knowledge and experience of the companies working at the front line of offshore wind farm installation the GWO’s continuously evolving safety standard enables third parties to engage with key projects without any room for doubt about their competency.

Holst argues that third parties are keen to embrace this system in order to demonstrate that they are trustworthy and reliable. "There is a GWO working group that continuously reviews standards, so if there is an incident, the group can immediately look at how to improve standards," he observes. "Any changes must be made known to training providers, so part of the DWIA’s job is to send out alerts.

"The GWO members are happy with how the process has moved forward and they are all participating actively, sharing the cost and remaining supportive of the organisation’s efforts."