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Top Safety Risks for Renewable Energy and How to Reduce Them

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Jane Marsh's picture
Editor Environment.co

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

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  • Jan 5, 2021
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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

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.

Electrical Currents

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.

Turbine Hazards

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.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 5, 2021

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. 

What are the industry standards? Are these put out by trade groups, or are they enforced by any specific regulation? 

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jan 6, 2021

Excellent report. This is a very important item that never gets the attention they should. Articles like this are very good to help bring attention to this important issue. Batteries are also being added to the GRID and home. They need to be included in the safety list. 

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Jan 12, 2021

There is a large body of standards and codes used in the power industry to protect personnel. Power plants are typically pretty rigorous in protecting their personnel, largely as a result of the maturity of the operating organizations. Therein lies the problem for green energy.

Green energy is only loosely regulated and operations tend to function in a largely laissez-faire fashion more typical of industrial applications. Such applications tend to put more emphasis on cost control, with rigorous personnel safety more secondary in nature.

So where does that put us relative to personnel protection and green energy? Fundamentally, the facilities need to be operated by organizations (and individuals) well versed in running power plants. That means costs will be higher than if the facilities were operated as run-of-the-mill industrial facilities. 

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