Safety reputation critical for wind energy industry

Opening the recent Irish Wind Energy Association’s annual conference, Gary Healy, the Association’s chief executive, told delegates that the industry’s reputation depends on its safety record and commitment to health and safety.

Setting the scene for the conference, Dr Healy said the sector was now a mature industry. There are, he said, 250 wind farms across the island, more will be built over the next couple of years and 22% of the country’s energy is generated by wind farms.

The industry has already invested €4bn and plans to invest a further €2bn between now and 2020. Currently 4,400 people are employed in the industry, which is helping the country to reach EU targets.

Saying that IWEA’s annual health and safety conference is a key event in the Association’s yearly calendar, De Healy said a reputational survey showed the industry’s safety reputation is a key issue for members of the public.


Philippa Knap leads the behavioural-based safety and safety culture programmes at the global wind energy company Vestas, who employ 22,000 worldwide, over 80 of them in Ireland. She spoke about the Vestas behaviour programmes, which have contributed to a reduction in the total recordable injury rate to six per million hours worked, from a lost time injury rate of nearly 30 in 2005.



Ms Knapp said behaviour contributes to 90% of accidents, compared to unsafe conditions which contribute to 10% of accidents. She said that Vestas works on reducing injuries through safe behaviour by raising safety awareness, safety leadership, safety walks, the Vestas ‘Behaviour Change Observation’ and ‘My Team, My Responsibility’ programmes.

The aim of the Behaviour Change Observation programme is to reduce low risk, high frequency behaviours among frontline operators and to reinforce safe habits through peer to peer contact.

The My Team programme focuses on all the team and sets behaviours for all employees. The programme reinforces line accountability and team engagement at all levels and covers safety performance, communication, risk management and engagement. Human errors are identified and reduced, using tools for site teams. The programme also sets expectations for contractors.


Eddie McCullough, a senior vice-president with DEKRA Insight, a global safety consultancy, spoke about creating a culture of care.

Setting the concept of care in a social context, Mr McCullough said decisions made now should consider generations to come. Care is, he said, feeling concern for and an interest in people, plant and equipment and process.

Considering the concept of safe working, he posed three questions:

  • What is your ability to stop something bad from happening?
  • What is your ability to stop something bad from becoming worse?
  • What is your ability to recover from something bad once it has happened?


Safe enough is, he said, compliance based on minimum standards. Mentioning the Texas City and Macondo disasters, he said safety is not the absence of incidents, but the presence of barriers.

Posing the question of whether to choose culture or competence, he said leaders create culture. The environment you create will influence your behaviour.