Wind Turbine Availability Rates vs. Safe Working Practices (HSE)

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September 22, 2016

Market developments

Today’s market for the operations and maintenance of onshore wind turbines shows a broad application of full service contracting. In these business cases, service providers guarantee an availability rate of wind turbines by offering a lump-sum price which includes all service and maintenance related activities. Such contracts relieve owners of active O&M Management and seem to assure a steady income and a reliable asset portfolio. From the perspective of the service providers, offering a lump-sum service fee allows them to set up a fixed organisation, able to execute planned maintenance schedules and where required respond to ad-hoc service requests.
All seems to be well arranged, the client is relieved and has a guaranteed income, the service provider has a guaranteed generated workload.

Practice, however, seems to differ from an ideal situation. In my experience gained as HSE Consultant for OutSmart, I have learnt that in daily practice, guaranteed availability rates often have a negative impact on safe working practices in wind turbine environments.

Complexity and variety in wind turbines

Wind turbines are a complex assembly of mechanical, hydraulic and electrical systems which rely on a delicate alignment to function in a proper manner. Such systems can vary greatly per brand and type. Besides this, onshore wind turbines are installed on remote locations and are designed to operate 24/7.

To service such systems under guaranteed availability rates, you need a flexible and efficiently organised pool of personnel, able to react on an ad-hoc basis to assure troubleshooting takes place within the guaranteed rates. Therefore, Dutch occupational health and safety legislation and industry standards require consistent and detailed preparation for the constant differing maintenance scenarios. Examples of such requirements are:
1. Identification and mitigation of activity related health and safety risks.
2. Deployment of competent and qualified personnel.
3. Supply and embedment of adequate work instructions.
4. Measures for personnel tracking and emergency response management.

Shared responsibilities

Dutch legislation and industry standards prescribe compliance to such requirements as shared responsibility for the service provider as an employer as well as for the owner of the wind turbines, who provides the work location. Important fact is that the requirement for such a collaboration is not automatically eliminated by outsourcing the service and maintenance in a full service contract.

Challenges

Personal field experience often show gaps between owner-service provider alignment and detailed work planning execution of service activities. In a quest to optimise the safe execution of wind turbine service activities, I have identified a number of possible causes for these gaps:

1. Gap: Owner-service provider alignment
Management and execution of service activities is outsourced to service providers completely. Limited alignment and unclear definition of roles and responsibilities regarding health and safety information between owner and service provider.
Result: Lack of compliance to legal requirements.

2. Gap: Work planning and execution of service activities
Service activities are often repressive troubleshooting activities which need to be executed as soon as possible after occurrence of an issue, to optimise the wind turbine availability rate. Servicing takes place at remote locations by troubleshooting teams who are on route all day. In such cases, a limited time frame seems to be available for proper planning and preparation of the activity and the actual physical handover between back office and service teams.
Result: Inadequately prepared service team on route.

3. Gap: Work planning and execution of service companies
Service companies often have a broad range of different brands and types in their service portfolio, which have to be maintained by a limited number of people. Safeguarding the adequate level of instruction matching the different types of wind turbines to teams working on remote locations seems to be difficult.
Result: Insufficiently instructed teams on location.

Available industry standards

Challenge in the optimisation of the identified gaps is to define and implement a system which safeguards the proper implementation of a work flow which defines roles and responsibilities, qualifications and formal handover of information. However, due to the complex organisation, labor intensity and costs which are related to the adequate organisation of above mentioned, I often experience a lack of well-defined systems in practice.

Although this seems to be an issue which companies acting in this field of the industry would encounter in daily practice, (Dutch) industry standards offer limited initiatives and practical resources to implement such a system in a simple and effective manner. In general, it is restricted to a basic process workflow and a work order template, leaving the definition of adequate procedure measures with the wind turbine owners and service companies.

Tailored solutions

As an independent operations management and consultancy company, OutSmart has comprehensive experience in optimising the (safe) execution of service and maintenance activities in wind turbines – in compliance to legislation and industry standards. By understanding the core principles for safe working in wind turbines, OutSmart developed a Safe System of Work Framework and digital Permit to Work Application, which allows real-time and remote management of onshore and offshore service activities in high-risk environments.

In close collaboration with relevant stakeholders, agreements will be established and implemented in a client specific safety management system, which consists out of a project procedural landscape together with an implementation plan, aiming for continuous evaluation and improvement.

Author of this blog: Luuk Schoo

More information?

To learn more, please contact Luuk Schoo, HSEQ Consultant at Outsmart.