Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

How to address health and safety risk in UK offshore wind projects

Out-Law Analysis | 21 Jul 2022 | 1:12 pm | 5 min. read

There is added complexity to managing health and safety risk in UK offshore wind developments, compared to other renewable energy projects.

The involvement of ships in offshore wind projects means two distinct health and safety regimes need to be considered in respect of each phase of the project.

The legal framework

The Health & Safety at Work Etc Act 1974 (HSWA) applies to offshore wind structures just as it applies onshore. There are also two sets of regulations which are particularly important.

Firstly, the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regs 1999 outline the need to carry out “suitable and sufficient risk assessments at all stages of work – with the need for effective planning, organising, control, monitoring and review of safety measures on an ongoing basis. What is ‘suitable and sufficient’ will depend on all the circumstances.

The second important regulations are the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015. These regulations specify a duty to plan and carry out the work safely at all stages of construction works. This duty applies to various parties involved in all aspects of construction work, including designers, principal designers, contractors, principal contractors, as well as the client, and the regulations also apply to the workers themselves.

The duty is not merely a paper exercise where safe procedures are set out in writing. There is also a duty to ensure that the procedures are actually followed.

These health and safety provisions do not just apply onshore. They also apply within the UK’s territorial sea, which extends 12 miles from the coast. Health and safety law also extends beyond the 12-mile limit in geographical areas covered by the Application Outside Great Britain Order 2013.

For all practical purposes, therefore, the health and safety legislation for offshore wind structures is the same as for onshore. However, there is a further complicating factor that applies to offshore wind projects – the involvement of shipping during the construction phase and thereafter.

The inter-linking between the law which applies to the offshore wind structure and the law which applies to the ships is not always straightforward. 

The HSWA and its various regulations don’t apply to shipping. The main legislation which applies to shipping in the UK is the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 (MSA) and related regulations.

The MSA applies to all ships within the territorial sea up to the 12-mile limit. The MSA also applies to UK registered ships wherever they are. For offshore wind structures within 12 miles of the UK coast, the legal framework for the ships is under the MSA. The safety regime under the MSA is similar but not identical to the provisions of the HSWA.

The HSWA will apply to the structure itself and the workers aboard it, but the MSA will apply to the ships and their crews. This can create confusion, especially where there are combined operations involving both the structure and at least one ship. And where there’s confusion, there’s risk.

Addressing risk in the planning phase  

Three main things need to be done during the planning phase to address health and safety risk.

First, detailed procedures need to be drawn up for the construction phase. Second, detailed procedures need to be written for the role of the ships. Third, a bridging document needs to link the two sets of procedures.

The bridging document is the single most important document in the whole picture, and needs to include detailed procedures for, at least:

  • The transfer of personnel, materials and equipment between the ships and the structure;
  • Lifting operations; and
  • Load sharing.   

It is vital that the bridging document establishes complete consistency for how the ships interlink with themselves and the structure. There’s an obvious need for excellent communication during what is potentially very dangerous work.

Addressing risk in construction  

The construction phase offshore is potentially extremely dangerous. There are numerous risks, all of which need to be thought through carefully to enable them to be engineered out where possible. If risk elimination isn’t possible then the risks need to be controlled. Typical risks at the construction phase are:

  • The fact that there may be a large number of personnel on site – perhaps carrying out simultaneous but mutually incompatible tasks;
  • The risks involved with lifting operations – especially between ships and the structure – with some of the loads inevitably being heavy and awkward;
  • There may be a need for load sharing between ships or between a ship and the structure.

There also inevitably will be a need to monitor the forecasts for wind, waves, tide and current. There often will be weather-sensitive tasks and a need to get work done while conditions permit. That can often create real or perceived pressures which, if not carefully managed, can create increased risks of unsafe decisions being made. There are also risks to the ships – especially if they are involved in heavy lifting or load sharing. Expert advice will be needed in the selection of the ships to ensure that they are safe for the job.

During construction there are likely to be subsea operations too. These need very detailed planning and careful execution.

Addressing risk in the operation and maintenance phase  

There may be fewer risks once the wind structure is up and running because there will be far less, if any, heavy lifting, but risks remain and they still need to be thought through and managed properly.

For example, there will be fewer personnel on the structure during the operational phase – that creates risks associated with remote or lone working.

Addressing risk in decommissioning offshore wind assets  

Decommissioning works constitute construction works for the purposes of the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations. Under these regulations, there generally will need to be a decommissioning plan in place before the original construction starts, and this will need to be approved by the regulator.

The risks associated with dismantling are widespread and they may include:

  • The integrity of lifting points may have deteriorated over the life cycle of the structure;
  • There may be flooded compartments in which the weight of the water is unknown, and that may create stability issues;
  • There may be the need for subsea work, including the cutting of structures on the seabed.

During decommissioning the work may be at least as dangerous as during construction, perhaps even more so because by that point the structure will be so much older.

Actions for developers

Offshore wind structures are playing, and will continue to need to play, a crucial role as the need for renewable energy gathers pace. They are, however, potentially extremely dangerous places.

From a health and safety perspective it is vital that developers plan fully before the work starts and keep the various risks continually under review. A detailed bridging document is essential to make sure there are no gaps between the safety plan for the structure and the safety plan for the ships. If health and safety risks can’t be eliminated, measures need to be in place to control the risks to as low a level as reasonably practicable, and the control measures need to be kept under ongoing review.

A version of this article was previously published in the British Safety Council Safety Management magazine.