THE QUESTIONABLE ACCIDENT RECORD OF THE GLOBAL WIND INDUSTRY – The first thing you discover when you enquire about the safety record of the wind industry is that the data is sketchy, incomplete and, therefore, tricky to analyse.
The second is that, peculiarly, there is no official register of wind turbine failures held by the UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) or of deaths by the US Government. The third is that the data that is available suggests the industry is accident-prone compared to other sources of energy, with a significant number of fatalities.
It is hardly surprising, on one level. Workers in wind farms are exposed to serious danger, including arc flashes, electric shock, thermal burn hazards and falls. Falls from a height, moreover, are still the biggest cause of worker fatalities in Britain. The most common type of wind turbine accident worldwide is blade failure, and the two most common causes of accidents are fire and poor maintenance. There is also a risk to nearby communities, and a number of jurisdictions have started to prohibit wind farms closer than 2 km to inhabited areas.
According to a recent report from RenewableUK, there were 868 reported incidents and injuries involving wind turbines in 2022, an increase of 10% on 2021.
The industry publication “Wind Power Engineering and Development“ admitted in 2021 to 865 off-shore accidents during 2019 and “EnergyVoice” provided details of over 500 UK onshore wind turbine accidents in 2020. “EnergyVoice” and the “Press and Journal” reported in July 2019 a total of 81 cases of workers who had been injured on the UK’s wind farms since 2014. “Power Technology“ reported 737 reported “operational incidents” during 2016.
In 2011 RenewableUK confirmed that there had been 1,500 wind turbine incidents in the UK in the previous 5 years. But the overall actual death count in countries that have adopted wind turbines at scale appears to be shrouded in mystery. One source claims that in Scotland, for example, there have been 229 recorded fatalities associated with wind farms since 2000.
To put these numbers into perspective, HSE reported no fatal injuries at UK offshore oil and gas platforms in 2021 and only four fatalities in the previous 10 years. Meanwhile, in the nuclear energy industry, a British Government report in 1988 estimated that the 1957 fire at Windscale would result in 100 fatalities from cancers (as a result of the radiation releases) over 40 to 50 years.
If the opacity and poor quality of available data is anything to go by, the wind industry, at the very least, needs to reverse its policy of “guaranteeing the confidentiality” of incidents reported. No other energy industry works with such secrecy regarding incidents. Additionally, accurate data on wind farm accidents and fatalities should be officially registered and published by the HSE every year for the benefit of the British public and the health and safety of the workers in the industry.