Working together to improve safety in the wind industry

By Alex Dahm19 December 2016

Most wind turbine erection projects go well, like this one by Sarens, but FEM and ESTA are campaigni

Most wind turbine erection projects go well, like this one by Sarens, but FEM and ESTA are campaigning to further improve safety

A campaign to improve safety and co-operation in wind turbine transport and erection has been launched by ESTA and FEM. IC reports.

Many industries, including cranes and heavy transport, have long realised the essential link between a strong safety record and a successful company.

In short, good safety means good business. To be blunt, you avoid the human tragedies and business costs involved in serious accidents. A professional safety culture usually means that a company as a whole is efficient and well run, to the benefit of clients, partners and the workforce.

Safe working is also a product of good communication, both within a company and along the supply chain, allowing different participants in a project to propose solutions. New industries, however, or industries facing rapid technological change, often face major challenges. Many in the crane and heavy transport sectors believe that is exactly the situation being faced by the on-shore wind industry today.

Industry experts estimate that there are currently two accidents a month. Hard data is hard to come by, in part due to the remote location of many wind farms, but many in the industry fear that the situation is getting worse. As a result, leading industry figures are calling on the developers and turbine manufacturers to join them in discussions about how standards can be raised and major incidents avoided. They add that such debates and better supply chain communication can lead to benefits not just in safety, but in the quality of management, productivity and efficiency on whole projects.

A step in this direction is the experts summit being organised in Hamburg, Germany, on 23 February 2017. It is the work of ESTA (the European Association for Abnormal Road Transport and Mobile Cranes) and the FEM (Fédération Européenne de la Manutention) Cranes and Lifting Equipment Product Group, representing the crane manufacturers.

Land-based growth

Onshore wind has been a major element in the rapidly expanding renewable energy sector for some years. Its growth has been remarkable. In Europe alone, the total installed capacity rose from 13 gigawatts (GW) in 2000, to 85 GW in 2010, to 142 GW in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available, of which a startling 131 GW is onshore.

In part at least, the growing demand has been driven by the falling price of wind power but, that in turn, has also meant great downward pressure on costs. In addition, in the more mature markets, the most accessible sites have been developed, which has meant new projects can be on difficult to access sites, often with difficult ground conditions.

Finally, there is the trend towards taller and bigger – and, for the developer, more efficient – wind turbines.

Taken together, many experienced voices in the crane and heavy transport sectors fear that those factors are causing many accidents – and that the situation is going to get worse unless action is taken soon. Søren Jansen, ESTA director, has been warning of the dangers for some time. “This is an issue because in Europe the height of the turbines is increasing and with the cranes we have now, we are using them to their limit.

“As the tower heights increase further, we will see even bigger cranes having to be used, which will in turn affect the requirements for the hard stands, which will have to withstand higher ground pressures and increase in size. In addition, the access roads will also have to be stronger.”

Jansen continued, “The greater heights mean there is more wind pressure on the boom and the load. This means the time window in which the lift can safely be carried out is further reduced. And that has both safety and cost implications.”

The importance of improving communication in the industry was stressed by Jansen, “There needs to be much better communication between the developers, the contractors, the turbine manufacturers and the crane and transport companies, including the crane and trailer manufacturers. At present, many firms feel that this communication is simply not taking place, but if our conference can initiate closer, better communication between the stakeholders, it would be fantastic.”

It is also a point stressed strongly by ESTA president David Collett, managing director at UK specialized transport company, Collett & Sons. “The road infrastructure is in many cases inadequate – sometimes the problem is the quality, sometimes the dimensions, sometimes the gradients. It is not the sites themselves that are the issue, all sites are appropriate. It is the quality of the project planning. Companies really need to talk to people earlier in the site development process.”

Collett continued, “Many ESTA firms have experienced the situation where the site design has been fixed without proper consideration given to the requirements of the crane and transport companies involved. And several of our members feel that some sites are inherently dangerous with, for example, steep inclines that could have been reduced or avoided. In my view, a lot of these issues can be resolved with earlier and better communication and planning. And that can often lead to greater efficiency in the project as a whole.”

Designing safety

Safety has to be designed into sites from the very beginning. Collett said, “As an industry, we are challenged to deliver a safe solution, and we have to comply with all the relevant health and safety regulations, but the problem is that the site might have been designed dangerously in the first place, before the cranage or transport company became involved.”

Collett continued, “Quite simply, the quality of the pre-planning and the quality of communication between all the stakeholders is the key issue – that is what we have to improve, and that is why we are so keen to develop better relationships with the developers and turbine manufacturers and their contractors.”

Of course ESTA and FEM are not the only organisations concerned about safety, and the news of the conference has so far also been welcomed by Wind Europe and the German engineering federation, VDMA. The VDMA has a wind industry safety culture working group which has in membership eight major turbine manufacturers – Vestas, GE, Nordex, Acciona, Siemens, Enercon, Senvion and Adwen – plus subcontractors and suppliers.

The group has confirmed that it will attend and talk at the Hamburg conference and ESTA hopes that Wind Europe – formerly the European Wind Energy Association - will follow suit. Earlier in 2016 VDMA published a booklet titled Wind Industry Safety Culture which set out seven safety principles (see box).

Andreas von Bobart, GE Renewable Energy Germany general manager and member of the board of VDMA Power Systems, said, “Our common goal is to further minimise the number of accidents… there should be no compromise when it comes to day-to-day business safety.”

ESTA and FEM’s members will hope that with better communication and co-operation between the different industry stakeholders, those principles can be turned into effective action on site.

Debate the issues

An ESTA and FEM Experts Summit will be at the Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, Germany, on 23 February 2017. Called “New challenges in on-shore wind farm construction – safety, productivity and the supply chain”, it will be a one day conference and reception, with leading industry speakers from across the sector.

Full details of the programme and speakers will be published soon. They but are expected to include the following:

* Prospects and issues in the on-shore wind industry

* Problems observed during lifts on wind farms – a review of accidents and their causes

* New challenges for mobile cranes due to increasing wind turbine hub heights

* On-site delivery; achieving best practice in access road design, layout and construction

* Thinking out of the box; crane design, longer booms and tower crane solutions

* Dealing with bigger turbines; trailer innovation and client co-operation

* Port handling, authority requirements and permitting

* Risk management, co-operation and an effective supply chain

* Experts round table discussions.

The organisers also hope that summit will lead to the development of a new best practice guide that will help raise standards, boost productivity and reduce the number of accidents.

The conference will be followed by a networking drinks reception.

For further information see:

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