The UK is the world leader in offshore wind.

Like the offshore oil and gas industry, offshore wind comes with its own set of health and safety challenges through its life cycle.

Offshore wind can be classed as high risk industry with potential for major accident hazards. Hazards relate to turbines, vessels and onshore.

They include working from height, fire or explosion, working with electrical systems or mechanical systems, lifting operations, blade damage, ice throw, working in confined spaces and potential exposure to dangerous substances, noise and vibrations and access and egress associated with crew transfer vessels.

In the face of the potential for such major accident hazards, data available for the offshore wind sector suggests an improving safety record.

Annual incident data published by G+ Global Offshore Wind showed that, despite construction activities increasing considerably in 2020, with hours worked almost doubled, the sector saw no reported fatalities.

However, 204 high potential incidents, some serious, prompted a letter to the industry from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in July 2020 urging improvement when notifying recommencement of regulatory inspections at offshore wind farms.

To give the HSE’s letter context, against the backdrop of greater sector activity, offshore wind’s rate of recordable incidents per hours worked remains significantly higher than in oil and gas - suggesting a way to go to tackle core safety risks.

Oil and gas has its own highly developed safety regime, tailored to offshore conditions, not so offshore wind. The Safety Case regime that applies to oil and gas installations does not apply to offshore wind.

The HSE’s sector plan for offshore energy includes a commitment to provide an effective regulatory framework to ensure risks are well understood and adequately controlled. However, there are no plans to introduce new legislation to specifically cover offshore wind.

Instead it will rely on a holistic approach based on the flexibility of the general ‘goal setting’ duties under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 and more prescriptive regulation addressing specific activities, being sufficiently comprehensive to manage the hazards associated with offshore wind.

The regulatory framework is complex. Any offshore wind operator’s safety management systems requires reflecting that framework, which is extensive, including:

  • Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
  • UK Merchant Shipping Regulations
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015
  • Reporting of Industrial Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013
  • Provision of Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998

Breaches of the law are criminal offences and enforcement includes prosecution for organisations and individuals with potentially significant financial penalties.

Duty holders require to have arrangements in place for risk assessment, safe systems of work, evacuation escape, recovery and rescue to prevent and reduce harm to those working in offshore wind.

There are a number of regulatory and investigative authorities: HSE, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the Maritime Accident Investigation Branch, the Civil Aviation Authority, the Air Accident Investigation Board and the Police.

While the offshore wind sector is set to soar sector specific regulation has not kept pace.

However, offshore wind continues to learn lessons from other more mature industries, specifically oil and gas, meaning sector specific regulation may be nice to have but ultimately unnecessary.

Offshore wind has the opportunity to benefit from the transferable skill set of workers, managers and industry leaders including in ensuring health and safety remains a priority and how hazards are managed.

Regulatory bodies are already collaborating, producing memorandum of understanding and guidance, which if followed will be the minimum required to comply with the law.

Renewables, including offshore wind, are key to a just transition and the generation, storage and use of renewable energy must be safe, secure and sustainable.

Understanding and managing the risks associated with health, safety and sustainability has a crucial part to play in building confidence of the public, stakeholders or wider industry and regulators.

Our specialist health & safety team have market leading expertise in the offshore wind sector and can help guide you through the current regulations and guidance.