Safety Precautions when Working with Renewable Energy
Renewable energy has enjoyed an explosion in popularity, thanks to a widely-recognized need to limit the amount of carbon we release. Homeowners, businesses, and governments are investing in these technologies as never before. But making the switch from more traditional forms of power to this newer kind might not be quite so straightforward.
Is renewable energy dangerous to work with?
We’re talking about quite a diverse set of technologies here, and the safety challenges posed by each are quite different.
In the case of wind power, for example, we might worry about mechanical failure. A strong wind might cause a faulty part to come loose, or it might topple altogether. The whole purpose of the technology is to cause a large fan to rotate as fast as possible – which, for anyone standing in the wrong place, can be extremely hazardous.
When we think about hydroelectric power, on the other hand, we might consider the potential for flooding that occurs when a dam is put in the wrong place. When we harvest energy from the natural world, we can cause unintended consequences. In the case of very complex systems, like tides and wind patterns, it’s worth proceeding cautiously!
How can you stay safe?
If you’re working with renewables, the best strategy is to work out where the points of danger lie, and to devise a health and safety policy accordingly. Frequent risk assessments, and the provision of appropriate personal protective equipment, are likely critical. For example, if you’re working in a place where a fall might be disastrous, or where the floor might be slippery, then you’ll want to wear appropriate footwear. Dams, rooftops, and wind turbines might all qualify.
With many new businesses rushing to enter the sector, it might be easy to brush these concerns aside – but this can be costly.
Safety in renewable energy vs fossil fuels
It might seem obvious that more workers in fossil fuel industries are going to be killed and injured every year, since these industries are much larger than their renewable-energy equivalents.
But even when we adjust for this, we find that renewables come out on top. Wind and solar are particularly impressive, with wafer-thin death rates per unit of electricity produced. Per terawatt hour, brown coal kills around eight thousand times as many people as wind power does.
When we think about safety, it’s worth thinking not only about accidents, but about more diffuse consequences like air pollution and carbon emissions. We should also think about the indirect consequences of renewable energy, like the lithium mining that makes possible energy storage in batteries, as well as photovoltaic solar panels. As efficiencies improve and new methods are pioneered, however, these challenges are likely to be overcome.