Solar industry can learn health and safety lessons from oil and gas, and wind energy industries
By Duncan Higham
According to the Solar Energy Industries
Association (SEIA), 43 percent of all new electric capacity added to the U.S. grid in 2020 came from solar power, the highest annual solar power increase in history. A record 19.2 GW was installed in 2020 and a series of record years is expected at least through 2024. Over the next 10 years, 324 GW will be installed, three times the amount installed through 2020.
This growth requires rapid development of commercial-scale solar installations, on the ground as solar farms and on the flat roofs of large buildings. The diversity of the type and location of solar projects presents unique challenges to maintaining the health and safety of workers. Since these workers possess unique skillsets, protecting them is essential to continued productivity. So how can solar companies avoid costly mistakes by learning from the experience of oil and gas, and wind energy companies when it comes to worker health and safety?
First Aider vs. Trained Medic
Companies may think that because they require every worker to be first aid trained, they have a group of mini-paramedics. The reality is that most are undertrained and not equipped to deal with major traumas.
First aiders are usually trained every two years, yet studies show that if they don't use their skills regularly, they are significantly reduced after about nine months. With a first aid course validity of two years, a patient could be significantly worse off being treated by a first aider.
If a medic is not available when a major medical issue or trauma occurs, the first aider must give treatment from the point of the incident, during the transfer and transportation to a hospital or treatment center, a process that could take hours. Unfortunately, in the midst of an emergency, companies find that the first aiders don't want to take on the liability, don't believe it's their "job," or find they don't remember or know what to do.
The best way to guarantee proper medical treatment is available is to retain a professional staffing service who provides trained medical personnel for local or remote medical support. These organizations, like Remote Medical International, provide a complete range of medical services including medical and safety staff, topside support, case management and evacuation services. In addition, by providing wellness checks and through basic observation, they are able to identify and prevent minor injuries from potentially becoming reportable incidents. Most importantly, by providing all these services under one roof, they provide an unparalleled continuity of care from the incident to case resolution.
In addition, they provide comprehensive COVID-19 services to create a healthy environment for the workforce and the community while ensuring a rapid restoration of business activities and enduring resilient operations during the global COVID-19 pandemic. From establishing protocols, to testing, isolating, and vaccinating, these teams are fully trained to keep the workforce safe, healthy, and working, and support local communities.
The best way a company can prepare is to utilize the services of a medical staffing company. It makes sense; companies pay thousands of dollars for professional legal firms and HR firms, and doing the same for a medical staffing company is not much different, and can lead to strategic decisions being made by the company which could make it more competitive.
Because of the challenging conditions of solar projects, every minute counts. The medical resources available to workers can make a big difference in achieving positive outcomes.
Planning For and Responding to Medical Emergencies
Most plans make assumptions based on best case scenarios. For example, if the worker has a medical issue that requires evacuation, the trained first aider can administer CPR during the 45 minutes it takes for the helicopter to arrive.
The best plans, however, anticipate worst case scenarios and provide answers to questions like these:
What happens if the helicopter is not available or cannot come for several hours and the worker needs to be evacuated by vehicle?
Who is trained to stabilize and safely transport the worker while administering first aid?
Do you have a working Automated External Defibrillator (AED) available? Who is trained to use it?
The best plans look at multiple "what if" scenarios for every type of incident, and once in place they are thoroughly tested to identify challenges or weak spots.
Maintaining a healthy workforce is an investment in the bottom line. Solar companies can learn from the experience of similar industries that the optimal solution is partnering with a medical services provider experienced in meeting the solar energy industry's unique challenges. Selecting a medical services partner who offers a complete scope of services from planning to medical support and training, and who understands the dangerous conditions under which a team operates is imperative.
Duncan Higham founded SSI Risk Management (SSI) in 2012 and SSI Energy in 2016 and successfully grew the SSI Group prior to its acquisition by Remote Medical International. He graduated from Cardiff University and Imperial College in Economics, joined the Royal Marines in 2002 and carried out several operation tours of Afghanistan and various other locations, leaving as a Major in 2012. He received emergency medical training in Cape Town, South Africa. In his current role as Vice-President, Global Strategy, Higham is responsible for the direction of growth for Remote Medical International with a particular focus and expertise in Renewable Energy emergency response.