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Worker safety concerns in renewables sector

19 July 2021

Dräger Marine and Offshore, a division of The Dräger Group, has issued a call for urgent action to be taken to ensure that safety in the UK’s fast-growing renewable energy and carbon capture sectors keeps pace in order to avert a major safety incident.

The call comes as independent research commissioned by the firm found that 63% of managers in the oil, gas and renewables sectors outlined concerns in their organisation about a major safety incident occurring in the next five years.

The research is part of a new report which assesses the impact of Covid-19, Brexit and workplace culture on health and safety in UK workplaces and warns of growing concerns regarding safety within the UK’s rapidly expanding renewables sector.

The warning comes as a significant majority of businesses involved in the study reported that safety has already been adversely impacted by Covid-19, with two thirds of managers (66%) reporting that safety training or investment within their organisation had been cancelled or delayed due to the pandemic.

Renewable energy and environmental initiatives such as carbon capture are often perceived as being green, clean and therefore safe, but the risks are frequently overlooked, and often not dissimilar to those seen in the oil and gas industry.

For example, the likely future re-purposing of decommissioned oil rig platforms for use within the UK’s carbon capture and storage programme: Whilst the purpose of the rig operation will be different, the operational hazards are much the same as those commonly faced on legacy oil rig operations: large numbers of people on a very remote platform in a harsh North Sea environment, with high volumes of hazardous gases. The gases might be different – hydrogen and carbon dioxide as opposed to methane – and they may be being pumped into the ground rather being extracted out of it, but the potential for a serious incident is much the same. For that reason, it is vital that sufficient funding and focus is given to safety in the sector.

Richard Ryan, Dräger Marine and Offshore comments, “The slow pace of progress regarding safety standards in the UK’s renewable energy and carbon capture sector is becoming a major cause for concern, and it has been made worse by significant Covid-19 delays to safety training and safety-critical maintenance work.

“Whilst there are many positive aspects to the rapid growth being seen in the UK’s renewables sector, the unprecedented pace of developments presents a real risk to safety as regulations struggle to keep up.”

Ryan continues, “A key part of the problem is that there is a real lack of understanding or appreciation of the full extent of the hazards involved in renewable energy and carbon capture and storage.

“Whereas safety in the oil and gas sectors is now mature and ingrained in the whole operating culture, this is not translating across to renewable operations in all areas of the industry. It is vital amidst the current rapid growth of the UK’s renewable energy sector, that safety regulations keep up with the broader pace of developments within the sector.”

Aside from the obvious, lifesaving, reasons that safety must catch up with broader progress in the UK’s renewables sector, there are other reasons for companies to pay attention to the concerns around the risk of a major incident. Over two thirds (68%) of employees say they would not work for an organisation that has had a major safety disaster in the last five years, with the figure rising to 72% in the under-35s.

Meanwhile, 87% of managers in the oil, gas and renewables sector stated that they felt safety encompasses so much today that it requires a different approach and different skills to five years ago.

Dräger Marine and Offshore is the group’s Aberdeen-based division and leads the group’s UK work in oil, gas, renewables and offshore sectors.

The full report is available to download from Dräger’s website here