Dangers to U.K. boat workers have increased amid the British government’s push for offshore wind power generation, the U.K.’s largest marine workers union, Nautilus, said Friday, adding that the government needs to push just as hard to ensure sailor safety.
The union says ship operators for the wind farms are the “Wild West” of renewable energy and are failing to enforce basic safety rules, allowing bullying and harassing, and assigning crews to work in conditions that exceed their training.
Government funding has helped the U.K. sail to the top of the world’s offshore wind power industry, which created a demand for boats to ferry technicians and equipment out to the wind farms.
Today about 400 boats ferry around Europe’s offshore wind towers, most around the U.K.
Nautilus spokesman Andrew Linington says regulators have not kept up with the growth in the wind industry, and if they don’t catch up, major accidents and deaths could result.
"The things we hear are shocking," he told the Guardian. "Workers are coerced into working way beyond official limits, both in terms of sea conditions and working hours."
The U.K. government’s Marine Accident Investigation branch in November reported an increase in accidents involving wind farm ships crashing into turbines and other ships.
One of the accidents recorded in the report involved a captain who didn’t have the proper qualifications to operate his vessel legally, and his employer, Windcat Workboats, had not assessed him. When the captain became distracted, his catamaran crashed into a raft and partially sank.
In another incident, a vessel collided with a wind turbine, injuring all five workers’ heads and breaking one worker’s arm.
The report said basic safety rules would have prevented these accidents and recommended improvements in training and recruitment standards.