Top Safety Risks for Renewable Energy and How to Reduce Them
- Jan 5, 2021 1:56 pm GMT
The renewable energy market is growing exponentially as more home and business owners switch to solar or wind and leave the traditional power grid behind. This is a boon for anyone in the industry — work is plentiful, and new contracts are appearing every day.
However, it is still a fairly new sector, and there are safety risks that are both unique and oddly familiar when you're looking at this particular career path. What are the top safety risks for renewable energy workers, and how can you reduce them?
Fall hazards aren’t confined to the renewable energy industry, but there are a few unique risks that accompany this sector. Installing solar panels on slanted or steep roofs increases the risk of fall-related injuries and deaths. The extreme height is an even bigger risk for wind turbine installers, with most of these power generators averaging 280 feet.
Fall hazards are so common that they’re part of OSHA’s Fatal Four — the four most common violations that result in on-the-job fatalities. Avoiding the risk of these injuries and deaths is twofold. First, ensure everyone has access to fall arrest equipment and that it’s being used correctly 100% of the time. Second, make sure it’s properly maintained, repaired or, if necessary, discarded. No one should be working with faulty safety items, especially when hundreds of feet in the air.
Confined Space Hazards
Confined spaces are problematic at the best of times. Installing renewable energy sources like wind and solar often requires spending extended amounts of time in tight quarters. Some may have the additional risk of things like low-oxygen and the accumulation of hazardous gases.
Reducing confined space risks and hazards can be tricky, depending on the conditions where the teams work. A comprehensive set of guidelines, as well as posted warnings, are useful tools for protecting installers and maintenance crews from confined space hazards.
The current global push is to create a 100% renewable power grid, and solar and wind energy will be a massive part of that. The entire point of installing solar panels and wind turbines is to generate electricity, and that creates its own series of hazards and challenges. Individuals in the solar industry especially are at risk for injuries related to electricity, such as arc flashes, shocks and thermal burns. Electrical and lockout/tagout violations are among some of the most common OSHA infringements.
The best way to reduce these hazards is to ensure training is kept up to the highest standards possible. Everyone working on a project must understand electrical installation requirements and safety protocols.
Wind turbines are massive marvels of engineering, but they can also be a source of various safety issues. This includes things like unguarded moving parts and exposed electrical components that can create new hazards for maintenance crews. It took safety experts nearly nine years to develop industry safety standards — more than twice the amount of time it takes other sectors to do the same.
Typically, industry standards are reevaluated every five years. However, because this sector is so new, they will be reexamined every 18 months to ensure they’re still effective. Companies must keep up with them, as well as any evaluations and changes that might impact the workplace.
Protect the Planet and Stay Safe
Green and renewable energy will eventually help protect the planet. Many people favor off-the-grid living, including using wind to power their businesses, batteries to operate their cars and fireplaces to warm their houses. However, that shouldn't come at the expense of the crews building our future. These safety hazards may be familiar to those in the construction industry, but they have their own unique challenges in the world of renewable energy.