Shifting Winds

“In Quebec and the rest of Canada, the almost total absence of wind-farm accident reports over the last 15 years suggests a lack of monitoring and accident reporting,”

Canada’s wind-energy sector, when compared to Europe’s, is an infant. But at just a few decades old, this nascent renewable energy resource is clearly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Wind turbines operate in every province, as well as the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. Wind energy accounts for nearly five per cent of domestic energy demand — enough power to meet the needs of more than three million homes each year.

Between 2010 and 2014, Canada’s wind power grew by a whopping average of 24 per cent year over year. With the commissioning of the K2 Wind Power Project in southwestern Ontario in June, Canada has become the seventh country in the world to surpass 10,000 megawatts of installed wind-energy capacity — a move that, supporters say, positions the country to continue its rapid growth as a mainstream contributor to the supply of electricity.

As wind turbines are relatively new on the Canadian power-generation scene, the work conditions in these installations have been, until recently, largely unexamined. But a team of researchers in Quebec, who conducted a review of the occupational health and safety risks associated with working in the wind-energy sector, has shed some light on the issue. Their 66-page report, Wind Energy Sector — Occupational Health and Safety Risks and Accident Prevention Strategies, was released in March by the Montreal-based Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST). This first study of Quebec’s wind-energy sector assesses the industry’s workplace-safety practices and the hazards to which its workers are exposed.

“Working in a wind turbine is not at all like working in a conventional factory,” says Jean-Louise Chaumel, Ph.D., professor at the Université du Québec à Rimouski and co-author of the IRSST report.

The exploratory study concludes that the main hazards of working at wind turbines are falls from heights, the remote locations of wind farms and contact with high-voltage electricity and moving parts in a cramped space. The unique conditions of working at wind turbines in Quebec, including weather and isolation, also increase job risks. But accident-prevention programs do not take these specific conditions sufficiently into account, because these plans are based on documentation produced by wind-turbine manufacturers — most of which are European.

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