IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Wind energy sector – Occupational health and safety risks and prevention strategies


Despite very strong worldwide growth in wind farm implementation, particularly in Québec, occupational accident statistics remain fragmentary, even internationally, and are not representative of the status of occupational health and safety in this sector. This study aimed to better understand occupational health and safety risks and practices, as hundreds of high-power wind farms are being built each year in Québec.  The purpose was to take stock of the wind energy industry.

The study used a multi-pronged approach, as opposed to statistical analysis alone, to identify, describe and analyze the risk of accident in the sector, as well as prevention practices and their compliance with practices recommended by the CSST. To our knowledge, this study is the first to develop an occupational health and safety profile for employees working in or in connection with this industry.

The study results first inventory occupational accidents that have occurred in the industry since the early 2000s. It is worth pointing out that in addition to risks associated with the mechanical aspects of wind farms, there are cardiac risks and accidents due to the electrical risks associated with power circuits or control circuits. These are two quite logical findings because not only is this kind of work performed at heights but a wind farm is a power station, so many risks are electrical in nature.

Those prevention programs that could be identified are disparate and come in many forms, often simply borrowed from wind farm manufacturers, none of which are based in Québec. Nor is there a clear and instructive example of related practice elsewhere in the world. Companies operating in Quebec should therefore shift towards implementing adapted prevention plans that comply with Québec legislation and CSST requirements. In order to analyze onsite working conditions, the researchers spent time observing technicians during their wind farm operation and maintenance work, as well as construction companies and subcontractors during the wind farm construction phase. These findings served to supplement the data collection and characterize the risks and working procedures.

Lockout, as defined in Québec for machines, is not applicable as such in the wind energy sector. The research established an initial framework for applying reinforced measures that are clearer for workers, but also adapted to the unique context of wind farms, which are in fact power stations at a height.

Lastly, winter work in isolated locations, which is characteristic of jobs in the Québec wind energy industry, presents challenges that can only be addressed in a way adapted to Québec realities. The issue of assistance and evacuation for injured workers, far from rescue support, is predominant. The research identified issues such as ambulance response time and airlifting, and laid the groundwork for potential improvement strategies.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
Research Project: 0099-8690
Online since: May 12, 2014
Format: Text