At Orbital we invest significantly in being proactive and ahead of the safety curve by operating formal processes to identify opportunities to remove or mitigate safety risks throughout the manufacturing, installation, operation and decommissioning of our turbines. It’s a culture that we defend, invest in, and see as an essential asset to the business.

Each month the Orbital Health and Safety Committee meeting takes place for the company during which all relevant topics are discussed in an open and transparent format with a no-blame culture to ensure the safety of all the staff – whether working on the turbine or at their desk. Ultimately, the aim is to be proactive, preventative, and prepared, to understand any future potential risk and review our internal register of incidents, near-misses, observations or changes in industry practices in an effort to capture valuable feedback and improve how we, and our technology, work.

When it comes to working offshore, in a tidal stream site, accidents have unique consequences, so our team has to be well equipped to deal with them. Harsh winter temperatures, strong winds, rapid currents, and corrosive saltwater demand correct equipment, specialist PPE and robust safety protocols to protect workers from potential hazards. At Orbital we have the added complexity of the turbine straddling both UK HSE Legislation and Marine Shipping Law.


Designing With Safety in Mind

With hazards like cold and fast-flowing water, erratic weather, vessel or turbine movement, and sea spray all creating the potential for slips, trips and falls, one of the biggest risks we face is a person overboard situation. We have mitigated the risk of getting onto the turbine by including design elements like push-on points [on both port and starboard sides] with integrated stairs, and mooring bollards, for vessels to come along side and make ship-to-turbine transfers as safe as possible. Once on board, we have handrailing down the whole length of the turbine, as well as throw lines and life rings.  The entry point for inside the turbine has been changed from the original vertical hatch to a set of stairs, to create an even safer point of entry and exit, particularly if someone needs to be stretchered.


Before Venturing Offshore

An excellent mitigation for the risks around working offshore is to not go offshore! While we have to accept offshore interventions with our turbines are a routine requirement of managing and servicing offshore assets, we invest heavily in the design and instrumentation of our turbines to allow engineers to conduct very detailed analysis and monitoring of all major systems and components via condition monitoring in an effort to reduce unnecessary offshore operations.

When interventions are required, weather will still dictate if we can go offshore and what operations we can do, with allowable metocean envelopes for all operations set in procedures. Onshore decisions on mobilisation are further helped by onboard deck-cams that give us a real-time view of the sea and weather conditions at the turbine. Vigilance of sea conditions remains a risk mitigation throughout offshore operations recognising that conditions can, and do, change such that operational teams need to be prepared to stop work and demobilise from site/turbine if sea conditions deteriorate sufficiently.


Before Stepping On Board

Our team undergo regular specialist and extensive training in order to work aboard our turbines and safety training is essential for anyone boarding a tidal energy turbine. All visitors to our turbines, from dignitaries to media camera crews, undergo training to understand turbine operations, emergency procedures, and safety protocols – both on the turbine and in the boats we use to get out to them. Additionally, everyone is kitted out in the appropriate gear – specialised PPE – which is vital for our safety in marine environments, and includes waterproof and insulated clothing, non-slip footwear, gloves, helmets, and life jackets[1].


Reacting to a Situation

With the combined hazards of cold water and fast currents, we recognise the value in developing optimised response procedures and, importantly, regularly testing these via real-life drill operations such that training helps save vital seconds.

In the instance of person overboard we run drills in controlled, real-life situations to test and practice vital steps like: person location and tracking [including interface with AIS and coastguard station operators], vessel manoeuvrers, use of emergency flotation and recovery equipment along with a wide range of other operational procedures and specialist equipment. As with all operations; we create time for effective lessons learnt processes to capture all aspects of feedback from these drills to help in ongoing improvement and optimisations – because we can always do better.

Chris Ward, our Quality, Health, Safety and Environmental Lead sums up the importance of this training: “A good health and safety culture is the basis of any successful company to ensure compliance and continual improvement of our Health and Safety Management Systems. I also believe it is important to create a trusting relationship with the team. We work together to ensure that the safe systems of work that we have in place are pragmatic and proportionate for the various and diverse tasks at hand.”

In Orbital training sessions, Chris outlines procedures for various scenarios, including turbine malfunctions, medical emergencies, and adverse weather conditions. Making sure everyone knows and understands what to do in the case of an emergency means we can keep them safe on the boat and on the turbine. “We have core fundamental training in place to ensure that the team keep their competencies current and have ongoing training to prevent skill fade across the Operations and Maintenance Teams.”

The exceptionally experienced team at Orbital has a deep understanding of the unique offshore environment and hazards that exist where tidal stream turbines operate. And the commitment to remain proactive in continual improvement is recognition that complacency is a danger to safety.

By harnessing the power of the tides, our turbines can provide a predictable, clean source of power. However, working on tidal energy turbines presents its own set of challenges owing to a unique and harsh marine environment. Remote, open waters come with weather conditions that can be unpredictable – even if we know what the tides will do. Like in any industry, ensuring the health and safety of our workers operating on the turbines is of paramount importance.


[1] Each visitor to the turbine is equipped with a state-of-the-art life jacket, with an Automatic Identification System Personnel Locator Beacon (AIS PLB). This system automatically activates the moment the lifejacket is inflated (which happens automatically within 5 seconds of being submerged!) and broadcasts the wearer’s location to all vessels fitted with an AIS receiver, transmitting a GPS signal over VHF (Very High Frequency) radio. The technician would have their location signal sent to all vessels around them, as well as the coastguard in Lerwick, Shetland.