Causes Of Accidents & Injuries Related To Offshore Wind Farm Construction, Operation & Maintenance In Maryland

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Wind energy is quickly becoming an integral part of our energy resources in the United States. In 2016 we experienced record wind job growth in wind energy with more than 100,000 people employed in the industry. The U.S. now has 82,143 megawatts (MW) installed of wind energy, enough to completely power 24 million American homes. In 2016, Rhode Island debuted the country’s first offshore wind project, and Maryland received approval in the second quarter of 2017 to construct two offshore wind farms, earmarked to be the largest in the country. So, the wind energy industry just keeps getting bigger, and with it more employed persons in the industry.

Wind energy, however great it is for our environment, can have hazardous working conditions for those employed to construct, operate and maintain the facilities of offshore wind farms. There have been reports of blades flying off, turbines falling over, among other devastating accidents. For those persons injured while constructing new or working on current offshore wind farms, maritime law may cover you for any bodily injuries you sustain. Maritime law is a web of intricate laws, and depending on who, what, where, when and how, you may be able to seek compensation for one or more of the following:

  • The Jones Act, which is a complex Act and coverage under this Act will depend on multiple variables; for example if the injured person was a diver, factors to consider include but would not be limited to how much time the diver routinely spent at sea, his or her employment type, where the diving accident/injury occurred, and from what type of vessel the the diver disembarked.
  • Maintenance and Cure, which is a legal doctrine that provides assistance to workers who are hurt on the job and who are also covered under the Jones Act; maintenance covers daily living expenses while cure covers medical expenses.
  • The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which was enacted in part to govern accidents that occur on the subsoil and seabed of the Outer Continental Shelf and all artificial islands and installations permanently or temporarily attached to the seabed erected to exploit offshore oil and gas and now — possibly — wind.
  • The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, which covers workers who meet certain requirements and who are therefore eligible for temporary or permanent disability payments, contingent on the extent of the injury, medical treatment, and rehabilitation.
  • The Death on the High Seas Act, which is an Act that grants surviving family members the right to file a claim if a loved one is killed in an offshore diving accident.

These laws, however, are extraordinarily complex. It will be in your best interests to retain a knowledgeable maritime personal injury lawyer in Maryland who knows both maritime law and the wind energy sector. At Gilman & Bedigian, we are here to investigate your claim and to negotiate and/or litigate on your behalf to make sure you or a loved one receives the compensation he or she deserves.

Offshore Wind Farms in Maryland

Maryland is already home to several onshore wind farms, and two new offshore wind farms are in the pre-construction phase. Land-based wind farms in Maryland typically have 10 – 50 turbines, and these wind turbines have a capacity of 2-3.5 MW each. Offshore wind turbines, however, have the capacity to produce much more power than land-based wind turbines because offshore turbines are larger and the wind is more consistent and stronger. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Maryland’s offshore wind power potential is 53,782 MW while its onshore wind power capacity is 1,483 MW. The difference is outstanding and alone provides good support for why Maryland wants to be home to the largest offshore wind farm in the country.

The projects were approved in May 2017 and remain in the initial stages of planning. Construction could begin as early as 2018 with operation starting as early as 2020. The plan involves 62 turbines to be constructed and maintained at least 14 miles off the coast of Ocean City. The project is estimated to cost $1.4 billion and will bring thousands of jobs to the area. But with those jobs come extremely hazardous working conditions that can result in serious injuries and/or death. In Europe, where offshore wind farms have already taken off, injuries and deaths are clearly documented in news reports and elsewhere. In the U.S., is relatively new, so little has been recorded regarding injuries and death. What is known is that the development, operation, and maintenance of the infrastructure for wind energy production includes massive equipment and machinery, and the given the heights involved and now the location offshore, accidents happen and they will happen more frequently as the industry grows.

Maintaining safe working conditions and taking safety measures will be important to workers’ well-being.

Hazards Presented by Offshore Wind Farms

What we know already from building onshore wind turbines is this: they are dangerous. The heights alone make work difficult. The equipment and machinery compound the risks. Hazards presented by offshore wind farms are unique to any other kind of construction, operation or maintenance project. The injuries sustained from these accidents can be devastating if not fatal. Some of the most common injuries are caused by diving, collisions, evacuations, extreme weather, structural failures, equipment failures, falling hazards, electrical hazards, and spatial hazards. These causes are described in brief below.

Diving Injuries

Diving operations are essential to the construction of offshore wind farms. Divers are needed for installing the foundation, laying cables, inspecting turbines, maintaining turbines, and decommissioning. Divers entrust their lives dive supervisors and other maritime workers while the divers are underwater. Accidents happen when there is:

  • Faulty equipment
  • Incorrect air/gas composition
  • Differential pressure (when water levels vary on either side of a barrier or boundary)
  • Insufficient training, supervision or dive monitoring
  • Unsafe diving conditions.

If any of the above conditions are present, divers risk decompression sickness, underwater welding burns, and/or lack of oxygen.

Collision Injuries

Collision injuries are not unique to offshore wind farms, but they do pose a greater threat to workers constructing the wind turbines offshore. For offshore wind farms, helicopters are used for construction and, sometimes, maintenance purposes. Helicopters are used to transfer personnel from the turbine to the vessel. The use of helicopters for this purpose poses the risk of helicopters colliding with the vessel. There is also the risk of personnel falling during the transfer. Finally, apart from the helicopter, there is the risk of two or more vessels colliding in the water.

Evacuation Injuries

From time to time, there may be an emergency that happens during the construction or operation of a turbine. Evacuations may be necessary due to fires, explosions, or inclement weather. The distance and water conditions to and from shore can impede evacuations and put others at risk. Regardless if vessel or helicopter is used to evacuate/rescue personnel, those persons operating the vessel or helicopter may have to contend with water conditions, weather conditions, air quality, visibility issues, etc., depending on the nature of the emergency. If accidents happen, some could fall from great heights or fall into the water. Any number of accidents can result. Likewise, any number of injuries can result, including but not limited to:

  • Drowning
  • Brain Injuries (mild to severe)
  • Spinal Injuries
  • Fractures or broken bones
  • Crush accidents.

Structural Failures

Offshore wind turbines and associated infrastructure are constantly exposed to marine environments, which can be harsh on any infrastructure, regardless its size and composition. Over time, equipment degrades, corrodes, rusts, loosens, among other consequences. Seawater and waves take their toll on the equipment. Storms can cause serious damage while the threat of an earthquake can destroy the infrastructure. If regular inspections, maintenance, and repairs are not kept, accidents can happen.

Equipment Malfunctions

Equipment can malfunction due to the conditions in which they are operating. Lifting and transporting machinery is necessary for building the turbines. This task is made more dangerous offshore than onshore simply because the size of offshore turbines are so much greater than land-based turbines. As such, loads can be heavier and more cumbersome. If the weather changes quickly for the worse, it can turn decent working conditions for the worse. Wind turbine blades have fallen during construction because of inclement weather and strong winds. Cranes also have smaller room to operate. The motion of the turbine, too, can be problematic and interfere with other equipment operations.

Falling Hazards

During construction workers must be at great heights as the build the turbines up. During operations, workers often must work in the tower of the wind turbine. To get to certain locations, workers must climb ladders many times throughout the day of construction or operation. One slip can lead to a fall. But there’s also the potential, especially during construction, the objects could be dropped from the heights. Being struck by a falling object, if it doesn’t result in death, will result in catastrophic injuries. The same can be said for falling from a turbine from almost any point.

Electrical Hazards

Electrical hazards are not unique to construction and operational work, but because of the maritime location, the gravity of the risk is greater. The biggest two risks are electrical burns and electrocution. If an electrical burn occurs and appears minor, the person still must have immediate medical attention because electrical (as well as chemical) burns can affect the inside of the tissue, not just the outside even if appearances seem mild, and the result could be medical complications that lead to death.

Spatial Issues

Technicians who work inside a wind turbine encounters confined spaces that can create hazards that are not immediately known. Confined spaces induce poor ergonomic positions, prolonged kneeling, repetitive body movements, and awkward postures. At the same time, if toxic elements are present (chemicals, dust, fumes), being in a confined space augments the dangers. These cramped positions can lead to fatigue, which can lead to problems, like inattention or exhaustion, on the job. These cramped positions can also impact the body physically in the long-term.

Comprehensive, Resourceful Offshore Wind Farm Legal Representation

Maritime injury law is a special area of law. Retaining a legal representative who practices maritime personal injury law specifically has several advantages to an injured mariner. As lawyers who represent injury at sea, we know the claims adjustment practices of relevant insurance companies, claims agents, employers, boat owners and the courts in which claims are brought. It takes a lot of resources and a comprehensive approach to each individual case, and that is time and money that other lawyers do not have. At Gilman & Bedigian, we have cultivated a team that works efficiently together; we have the financial and professional resources to fully undertake investigations into the facts of each case, and we have creative legal minds that address each case from different angles.

Though a meaningful understanding of the claims adjustment practices is critical, the most important reason for hiring a maritime law attorney is the compensation, which will exceed what you would be able to obtain on your own. That said, hiring a lawyer does not guarantee compensation, but retaining an experienced attorney should provide you the results that fully justify retaining legal counsel. Besides, at Gilman & Bedigian, our fees are contingent on your receipt of compensation. You don’t have the added stress of paying for a lawyer out-of-pocket when you may already be suffering from financial hardship because of the injury.

If you retain Gilman & Bedigian, you retain a team of lawyers committed to your well-being; a team that is dedicated to keep you informed at all times of the progress of your case; a team that is fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your individual case and develops a strategy unique to that case. At Gilman & Bedigian, we have a reputation for smart, strategic investigation, negotiation and litigation. We will work tirelessly on your behalf.

Maryland Maritime Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian

The attorneys at the Maryland law office of Gilman & Bedigian represent maritime workers who have been injured during the course of their work. You deserve the compensation that maritime law protections afford you, and we know how to fight for your interests and secure those protections. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162.

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