Expecting a Renewable Worksite? Plan ahead for These Risks
It would be too easy to think of a renewable energy plant as a safer worksite due to the absence of some traditional risk factors. But this is an incorrect, and potentially dangerous, approach to any…
It would be too easy to think of a renewable energy plant as a safer worksite due to the absence of some traditional risk factors. But this is an incorrect, and potentially dangerous, approach to any renewables project.
We regularly help clients with some common risks found on renewable sites: confined space working and the additional risk of asphyxiation, fire or explosions.
Thankfully, specialist hazardous area portable lighting and electrical equipment are available to manage these dangers along with free, expert help to make sure the right rig is chosen for exceptionally reliable performance.
Read on to find out more about the risks involved in renewables sector working, product recommendations from our experts and details explaining where to find project equipment advice.
RENEWABLE WORKSITE SAFETY: THE RISKS
With the headlines, using the UK as an example, showing developments like IAG Cargo’s commitment to Sustainable Aviation Fuel and even the UK government’s support for biofuel innovation, it’s clear that biofuel is a growing sector.
Meanwhile, UK Government statistics show that electricity generation from wind power in the UK increased by 715% from 2009 to 2020 with the UK National Grid announcing that 2020 was the “greenest year on record” due to all-time highest levels of wind energy generation.
Therefore, many contractors could find themselves working on biofuel, or another type of renewable site, sooner rather than later.
But because we often associate these types of production with being ‘green’ and ‘cleaner’ it’s extremely important to avoid underestimating the safe working risks involved.
Two risks we often see clients take steps to mitigate are found, in particular, in the wind energy and biofuel sectors.
RENEWABLES WORKSITE SAFETY: WIND POWER AND CONFINED SPACES
The US Department of Labour identifies confined space working in the wind energy sector as a specific “Green Job Hazard” and has issued specific instructions, reminding employers and operatives that “some confined spaces have recognized hazards, such as low oxygen environments, which can pose a risk for asphyxiation, or accumulation of hazardous gases”.
“These confined spaces are called permit-required confined spaces and require additional safety precautions.”
In the UK, a confined space is defined by the UK Health and Safety Executive as: “a place which is substantially enclosed (though not always entirely), and where serious injury can occur from hazardous substances or conditions within the space or nearby (e.g. lack of oxygen)”.
It’s easy to see how working on a wind energy site could fall under this definition, however it’s worth noting that risks can be present during more types of work than most people might imagine.
As our earlier Safe Working in Confined Spaces blog points out, a lack of air movement in a confined space can be extremely dangerous as it can lead to:
• Oxygen deficiency in the atmosphere: Because an oxygen-deficient atmosphere is considered to be one with less than 19.5% available oxygen, an atmosphere with less than 20.8% oxygen should not be entered.
• Flammable atmospheres: This can happen due to the oxygen in the air or flammable gas, vapour or dust in the proper mixture. Different gases have different flammable ranges. If a source of ignition is introduced into a confined space containing a flammable atmosphere, an explosion will result.
• Toxic atmospheres: Ranging from fast-acting poisons to long-term cancerous carcinogens, toxic atmospheres can – as mentioned above – be present due to product stored in a space (even after the product has been removed due to be absorbed or remaining as residue).
These dangers are especially relevant to work such as welding, cutting, brazing, painting, scraping and sand blasting etc being carried out in a confined space. Particular attention should be also paid to vapours from, for example, cleaning solvents.
It’s clear that the lack of air movement involved in some wind power facility working areas, with the addition of working activity causing further risk, means the dangers from confined space working in the wind power sector should not be taken lightly. Therefore, an uncompromising approach to using only the correct ventilation and electrical equipment becomes essential.
RENEWABLES WORKSITE SAFETY: BIOFUEL WORKSITES
As part of SA Equip’s commitment to keeping customers informed about avoidable risks they may face on worksites, as well as ways to mitigate these risks, we previously warned about some hazards present in biofuel facilities.
In August 2020 we pointed out that both large and small-scale facilities can have major fire and explosion risks, caused by non-compliant electrical equipment in hazardous areas, on-site. Furthermore, exposure to these chemical processes in anaerobic digesters or in confined spaces can cause asphyxiation which can result in unconsciousness or suffocation if not ventilated correctly.
Like those working in wind power production facilities, operatives in renewable energy plants may encounter confined spaces. Therefore, especially due to some energy sources containing hazardous chemicals and gases in the production phase, workers need to take the proper precautions to avoid injury.
To take one example, the safe working risks likely to be present in a biogas plant can be planned for at the project development stage:
• Fire and explosion risks
• Confined space hazards
• Risk of asphyxiation
• Risk of gas poisoning (H2S, NH3)
• Risk of high-pressure gas or liquid leaks
• Risks associated with rotating mechanical equipment
• Risks associated with rotating mechanical equipment
Like wind power sector working, the provision of clean air and safe, ultra-reliable power are both absolute essentials. We’ve included product advice from our hazardous area working equipment specialists below.
RENEWABLES WORKSITE SAFETY: EQUIPPING FOR SAFETY
Ultimately, many wind power and biofuel worksites have one thing in common: the need for clean, safe air as well as safe, exceptionally reliable power.
In the case of air in a confined space it’s generally more effective to ventilate a confined space by pushing fresh air into it than extracting air.
Vitally, the bigger the airflow of the device doing this, the less time is needed to ‘secure’ the confined space before entering in it.
The key rules to providing sufficient airflow are:
• It’s recommended to have a ventilator that is able to ventilate 20 times the volume of the confined space per hour.
• It’s recommended to ventilate 7.5 times the volume of the confined space before entering.
When pushing fresh air into a space:
• The pushed air is going 30 times further than if it was exhausted.
• This creates a real airstream inside the whole confined space. When exhausting there are some places in the confined space where the polluted air could remain.
• To avoid introducing polluted air inside the confined space it is important to be sure that the air pushed inside the confined space is not polluted.
• The ventilator should therefore not be placed very close to the confined space, as it could simply push the polluted air back into the confined space.
Our specialists have developed, and strongly recommend, the SA CYCLONE range of hazardous area ventilation as this selection of fans, ducting, filter units, couplers and adaptors have been purpose-designed to allow users to make an inhospitable, dangerous environment into a safe workplace.
Plus, plug-and-play design makes it easy to rapidly set up a temporary ventilation system wherever required.
For power supply, in a hazardous area worksite the demands for performance, portability and safety placed on equipment should be just as stringent.
As a starting point, the SA POWERNET EX Mains Distribution Unit, an ultra-robust piece of portable equipment offering sockets with 10 metres of input cable, is ideal as it’s packed with safety specification:
• Zones 1 and 2 (gas)
• Tough and durable
• Full MCB protection
• Easy to transport
• Waterproof and dustproof
• Internal safety shield
The full range of SA POWERNET portable power distribution equipment, including ATEX & IECEx certified transformers, splitter boxes, and extension leads and reels can be explored here.
It’s easy to overlook one powerfully simple truism when selecting equipment for hazardous area working: faster set-up and removal with exceptional reliability and performance means less time spent in the hazardous area. This alone makes choosing equipment to meticulous standards an investment in both safety and efficiency.
NEED HELP SOURCING THE RIGHT RENEWABLE WORKSITE SOLUTION?
We’re much more than just a ‘supplier’. We help our clients across the world achieve optimal lighting, heat and ventilation results in challenging environments. Our in-house product development team can even devise a bespoke solution.
We specialise in:
Most of all, we bring almost 100 years of pacesetting service and knowledge – with a foundation in the most extreme shipping and oil industry environments – to customers across heavy industry, aerospace, defence, utilities, pharmaceuticals, distilling, power stations and more.