Every employer wants to avoid accidents and promote a safe working environment, and offshore wind farm operators face grave logistical challenges when it comes to occupational health and safety. Jens Frederik Hansen, CEO of A2SEA, discusses his company's localised and education-focused approach to keeping workers safe.
Like many rapidly growing industries, the offshore wind sector has had to explore multiple approaches to effective health and safety. Different companies have tried myriad techniques to protect their workers in what can be a very risky environment. Regulators and unions are pushing for rigid standards, so how best can operators stay ahead of the game?
"The offshore wind industry is a relatively new business: the understanding of how to work at sea is new to a lot of people and the whole mindset of safety offshore is a big issue," says Jens Frederik Hansen, CEO of A2SEA.
"We feel that we need more caution on the ground, with safety rules more present in day-to-day work," he explains. "We want to get the right mentality into people about running operations offshore without any personal injuries at all: that's definitely where we need to go and we are well under way."
Safe and sound
A2SEA set out with an ambitious proposal for its health and safety programme: eliminate accidents altogether with a 'zero harm' policy that emphasises the well-being and happiness of workers.
Its fundamental goals are to focus on a commitment to safety; to raise awareness of the dangers of the job; to respect regulations; and to inspire enthusiasm for keeping employees safe in the workplace. There is also a 'stop work' policy - whereby employees are encouraged to down tools whenever they feel they are in an unsafe situation - and a culture in which workers are made aware of their rights has been fostered.
"Our campaign sets out that, no matter what you do, whether you are an employee of A2SEA, a subcontractor, a client, or anyone else, we believe you should not worry about being harmed at work," says Hansen. "The way we're doing it has helped get results, and has reduced even small injuries down to a tiny level, compared with where we started."
The new company policy takes a decentralised approach that focuses on education and having dedicated safety coaches and site managers on site.
These specialists follow everyday operations, and can offer advice and coaching at all times, giving health and safety rules a more personal feel.
"People should not go to work worrying about getting hurt," states Hansen. "That's where we are focused, and we are constantly discussing how daily life on board ships and vessels can be improved, and how these environments can be made safe to work in."
The use of these health and safety 'ambassadors' enables A2SEA to guarantee that new standards are being implemented quickly and thoroughly at all levels, as well as giving the company direct feedback from workers about the new policy.
"When you introduce a new procedure it's important that you should be able to monitor and follow up on it to make sure that everyone understands it fully and is able to carry it through," says Hansen. "The ambassadors and the safety coaches are out discussing this with local workers on the different ships. There's a pretty good, close dialogue about things."
Make it personal
Improvements to employee safety are a constant source of discussion. The roots of the new approach, says Hansen, came from extensive consultation with members of staff, and health and safety professionals to find a balanced approach that would work on the ground, but could also be centrally administered and directed.
"We learned that it was easier to implement things if health and safety organisations were a centralised unit that really was standing for compliance and the process-oriented work," he says.
Part of the decentralising approach meant integrating health and safety departments into more local departments, to make sure they could respond to the varying needs of workers in different sectors, however.
"We split up the health and safety organisations into the categories they'd be working in, but also into the shipping operation and maintenance areas," Hansen relates.
"The health and safety part of the organisation has become 'localised' into other parts of the organisation, but it still has a function as part of the health and safety group."
The company is getting good feedback from employees, he says, who appreciate how seriously their well-being is being taken by management, as well as more personal, approach. "They are pleased with the fact they see more coaches, more dialogue, and guidance, and also that their proposals for improvements are being taken on board."
Much of A2SEA's work is done in the European Union, and particularly in the UK, and Hansen says that while the health and safety regulations of these jurisdictions are a good starting point, they don't always fully grasp the complexities of the business landscape.
"I think they are pushing for a very safe industry, and we understand the authority's requirements and follow them," he says. "But we need to understand the major risks and make ships completely safe, and that's not coming from either the EU or the UK Government. We set our rules and standards so we know we are covered in every country we work in."
Introducing more comprehensive health and safety policies means that companies can also bring down energy costs, Hansen says, with the avoidance of accidents meaning resources otherwise spent on litigation and compensation can be put into savings for the customer.
"Accidents bring a lot of things to a stop and can cost a lot of money: you have major investigations and huge measures to follow up on," he argues. "If you can run an industry with a zero harm policy, there will be no serious incidents at all, which will bring down costs. Any injured employee represents an unnecessary cost, so guaranteeing safe workplaces and good health will undoubtedly help any industry save money."
Is the rest of the industry following suit and adopting A2SEA's health and safety plan? Different companies will take different approaches, Hansen argues, and he is quick to stress that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to employee health and safety in the offshore wind farm industry.
"Sometimes, you really need to take a new approach to make sure you take the next step on the ladder towards zero harm, which where people don't get hurt at all."