We speak to Chris Streatfeild CFIOSH about his health and safety work in the complex and expanding world of renewable energy.
The burgeoning wind energy industry requires a broad range of expertise. There’s the need to understand construction in building these massive turbines, high-voltage systems and working at height. With offshore wind, there are maritime considerations. In the placement of turbines, there’s the added ingredient of environmental factors. And even this list doesn’t take into account all the skills, competencies and knowledge needed to be an effective OSH professional.
Chris Streatfeild is not short on skills, knowledge and experience. Over the course of his 35-year-plus career, he has gained specialist professional expertise in areas such as heavy industry, manufacturing, construction, and health and safety law – not to mention the subject of his first degree, environmental sciences. Together, this meant that in 2008 he was well placed to be appointed as the first director of health and safety at the British Wind Energy Association, now RenewableUK.
Challenges and opportunities
‘The industry was growing rapidly and realised that it needed a greater focus on safety. That was my remit: to engage with our members, the industry and the supply chain to raise their awareness of good health and safety practice. Also, I engaged with government and regulators as the industry started to grow and develop,’ Chris says.
‘The key change we have seen in the past decade, especially offshore, has been the sheer scale and the size of turbines and projects. But also the industry has matured in terms of its professionalism and its ability to design, build and operate a modern wind farm offshore. It used to be called alternative energy – now it is a primary energy producer. That is only going to increase.’
Chris left RenewableUK in 2016 to set up an independent training and consultancy business, Renewable Safety. He says the sector’s expansion offers challenges and opportunities, especially for OSH professionals. ‘The industry in the UK and globally is going to grow phenomenally. In the coming decades, it will need hundreds of thousands of people. Any industry that grows will face technical challenges when you scale things up. Perhaps the biggest challenge we have is making sure that we have enough people with the right type of skills. In terms of health and safety, while construction, operation and maintenance create the most obvious OSH risks, best practice will consider the risks across the whole lifecycle, from concept/design through to decommissioning,’ Chris says.
Knowledge and skills
‘We will need lots of technical people who can design, install, commission, operate and maintain the technology. But it’s not just the turbines; it’s all the infrastructure and supporting assets that every offshore wind project will need, such as the grid infrastructure, array cables, the substations, the vessels. All of these will need technical knowledge and skills. Clearly, due to the nature of the industry, we’re not going to always have people with specific wind knowledge and expertise – we want people with transferable skills who we can train up to have the appropriate knowledge.
‘We are going to need people as new entrants – people coming from college, first degrees or apprenticeship programmes. We also want to help people transition from other related sectors – oil and gas is the most obvious one, where there are a lot of synergies offshore. We want to help people coming from other areas where they have good technical skills and good safety skills, such as the military. And we need to do more to drive further gender and cultural diversity, which will help stimulate innovation and open new pathways for technology deployment.’
We need to develop individuals who have good communication skills
For OSH professionals, though, the range of relevant skills and competencies falls well beyond just the technical.
‘We also need hard and soft skills,’ says Chris. ‘I see the role of a health and safety professional as not just about giving technical and legal and other risk management advice. It’s about facilitating others to skill themselves up, or skill their companies, so they can develop health and safety competencies within specific roles.’
Not so soft
‘When I link that back to the IOSH competency framework, a lot of the skills required by OSH professionals are soft skills – for example, communication,’ he adds. ‘We need to develop individuals who have good communication skills, not just in a safety context but also being fully aware of the business and commercial landscape that the industry or project operates within. They don’t need to explain to a CEO that health and safety is important – that was a conversation from 20 or 30 years ago. What CEOs need to know are the relevant risks to their business and how they can use OSH risk management to solve problems and add value to the business and wider sector.’
For Chris, what continues to motivate him is bringing together these different pieces of the OSH jigsaw against the backdrop of a dynamic, complex and expanding industry.
‘I’m passionate about helping people improve their own knowledge and understanding about health and safety and risks, so that they can take that knowledge and understanding and apply it to their own situation,’ he says. ‘I am also committed to supporting the growth of renewable energy technology. And I am dedicated to making sure that it is done in a safe way, but also in a positive way, where health and safety adds value to the overall industry.’
Technology: How sector innovation is driving safety
Wind power is at the forefront of technological innovations, some of which directly affect health and safety. ‘We’re going to see increased deployment of floating wind power in ever more challenging locations. We’re also going to see more applications such as the development of hydrogen generation from wind, with energy storage and other technologies,’ Chris says.
‘We will also see increasing use of innovative support technologies. The most obvious one in terms of safety is the use of drones. We use a lot of drones for inspection and maintenance to avoid the need to work at height. But they’re going to be increasingly used for other tasks, such as transporting essential parts to wind farms.’
Standards: Leading way on training
The wind energy industry has its own set of Global Wind Organisation baseline training standards. ‘We’re one of the few industries that has created a global benchmark of entry-level health and safety training standards,’ Chris says. ‘We’re putting 100,000-plus people through that system. However, the sector will also need to develop other training standards to drive up health and safety knowledge and competence. The IOSH-approved course Health and Safety Management: Offshore Wind, designed and delivered by Renewable Safety, is an example.’