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New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Ensuring health and safety keeps pace with growth of the onshore wind sector


5 min read

Head and shoulders image of Emma McIvor, Technical Manager at SafetyOn Photo: SafetyOn
Emma McIvor AMEI, Technical Manager at SafetyOn

Photo: SafetyOn

As renewable sectors like the wind industry have emerged and grown, they have required new approaches to health, safety and environment (HSE) practices. Here, Emma McIvor AMEI, Technical Manager at SafetyOn, the health and safety organisation for the onshore wind sector, gives an update on the sector and the centrality of safe operations for the industry.

Globally, the UK is one of the world’s best locations for generating wind power. It has over 11,000 wind turbine generators with a total installed capacity of 30 GW – 15 GW onshore and 15 GW offshore.


In 3Q2023, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) reported a record amount of renewable energy generation, a 6.8% increase over the same period in 2022. It remarked that most of the increase was in wind generation, driven by higher wind speeds and new onshore and offshore capacity.


The continued growth is a result of several factors, including the geographical location, technological innovation and the government’s commitment to meet net zero. Technological innovation for wind power is focused on increasing turbine productivity by designing larger turbines to decrease the overall cost of power generation. Other beneficial improvements include advanced weather monitoring, which enables wind farms to take precautionary measures, fire detection and suppression systems, and enhanced security measures to deter trespassers from break-ins.


As with any industry, growth must be coupled with robust HSE practices to ensure the wellbeing of employees, safeguard the environment and provide operational efficiency.  

Organisations like SafetyOn, the UK onshore wind health and safety organisation, play a pivotal role in the safe deployment and operational efficiency of UK onshore wind generation.


The latest health and safety statistics from SafetyOn reported an increase of working hours, with a decrease in the number of incidents, thus indicating that significant progress has been made in improving safety practices over the years. However, there is still room for improvement.


SafetyOn works to improve health and safety through four key areas. First, gathering and sharing incident data helps to gain an understanding and awareness of the health and safety issues within the industry. Data can be analysed to monitor health and safety performance, trends and to identify risks. Areas of higher risk, identified in the incident data, form the evidence base for the SafetyOn work programme. For example, 2022 incident data recorded 113 incidents as ‘high potential’, an increase of 6.4 % compared with the previous year; 14 of these were related to lifting operations. SafetyOn is aware of the risk in this area and is developing industry good practice guidance on coordinating crane lifting activities at site.


Furthermore, in October 2023, SafetyOn held a Safe by Design (SbD) workshop examining the design of chain hoists and ancillary equipment, lift plans, permits and controls, and training and competency across industry. Both documents will be published on the SafetyOn website in 1Q2024.


Second, Safe by Design explores particular topics or risk areas and investigates improvements by eliminating or reducing risks during the design stage. These improvements help to reduce the number of incidents, raise efficiency and improve the sector’s overall health and safety performance. For example, in the 2022 incident data, 10% of incidents recorded during accessing and egressing the wind farm and its assets were attributed to ice fall and ice throw. SafetyOn recognises the risk of injury caused by ice throw and falling ice debris, so is planning to hold a SbD workshop to examine control measures.


Third, good practice guidance is developed by drawing on expertise across the onshore wind industry. Driven by the incident data, SafetyOn takes a focused approach to delivering the right guidance for the industry, producing good practice guidelines on areas identified as high risk. Robust guidance for the industry can be put together by drawing on knowledge and expertise from SafetyOn members, subject matter experts, academics, regulators and industry stakeholders.


Fourth, learning from incidents is possible when health and safety information, potential hazards and other safety-related information is shared. That practice can help prevent incidents occurring elsewhere in the industry. Safety releases are communicated through our website and are categorised as safety alerts, safety bulletins and safety notifications.


close up of wind turbine blades in foreground with snow covered landscape behindSafetyOn recognises the risk of injury caused by ice throw and falling ice debris, so is planning to hold a SbD workshop to examine control measures
Photo: Adobe Stock


In January 2024 SafetyOn also held its inaugural ‘Stand Up for Safety Week’, dedicated to creating time to discuss hazards working onshore and the preventative measures that could be taken to reduce risks to health and safety.


As onshore wind capacity increases in the UK, so too will the workforce and supply chain provision that supports it. The need to manage health and safety during all stages of the project life cycle continues to be key. SafetyOn’s aim is to ensure health and safety is at the core of every project, and throughout all of the stages of the lifecycle. All employees in the UK’s onshore wind industry should plan safely, work safely and go home safely.


SafetyOn is run in partnership with the Energy Institute (EI), which provides the Secretariat and supports its work.