Wind farm workers who can also save lives

Paramedics who double as technicians are set to be introduced to offshore wind farms in an initiative backed by an innovation funding pot.

Experienced life-savers are being trained for operational duties on remote turbines so they can carry out a combined maintenance and medical role.

The pioneering concept is being brought to the emerging wind farm hub of East Anglia by SSI Energy, thanks to a £50,000 grant from the SCORE (Supply Chain innovation for Offshore Renewable Energy) scheme which promotes new ideas and efficiency improvements in offshore renewables.

Under the venture, fully-equipped technician paramedics will be able to tackle medical emergencies such as strokes, heart and asthma attacks and anaphylactic shock, as well as the full range of traumatic emergencies including open fracture, and falls from height.

It provides a significantly higher-grade service to that offered currently. At present the only medical cover is provided by fellow technicians who are required to undergo only the two-day GWO (Global Wind Organisation) first aid course, compared to the four years of paramedics. This service enables patients and casualties to get expert help in the first “golden hour” which is vital to boosting chances of recovery.

The requirement to have a medic has been typical in the oil and gas industry for the last 30 years, with a medic, or in some cases a doctor, based on the platform, rig or vessel. With wind farms being built further offshore than ever before, the need for having greater medical protection is exactly the same.

Earlier this year SSI medic technician Peter Lane saved a colleague who was taken ill at a wind turbine training centre in Ireland. The medic spotted the symptoms, realised it was a heart attack, and drove him to a filling station seven miles away to rendezvous with an ambulance. The casualty twice went into cardiac arrest at the garage, but Mr Lane had grabbed a defibrillator from the training centre, shocked him back to life and gave CPR resuscitation until the casualty was sufficiently stabilised to be able to able to be moved to hospital. The casualty has made a full recovery after having stents fitted to his heart.

SSI managing director Duncan Higham said the incident was the perfect example of the difference between life and death technician medics could have on offshore, and onshore, wind farms.

Mr Higham said: “Wind farms are pretty safe but if someone gets hurt or taken ill it could be a long wait for a helicopter or lifeboat.

“If the casualty had been up an 80m turbine offshore, with only a first aider on hand, he would have been unlikely to survive.”

His views were echoed by Jason Welch, director of GE, SSI Energy’s client in Ireland who said: “This was an excellent outcome for the patient and proves exactly why we make the investment in SSI Energy’s services. This type of serious incident could happen at any time and to have specialist help on site really saves life.”

With an eye on value for money in cost-conscious times, the technician medics are trained to carry out duties, up to Level 4, such as changing drive trains, greasing blade bearings, exchanging hydraulic motors and annual maintenance.

The Hampshire-based company says it is this “fresh approach” which has helped win over clients from traditional medic providers.

“The usual concept is to have first aiders, or a medic sitting around waiting for something to happen. We are trying to add value and we know there is a demand in the industry,” said Mr Higham.

The initiative comes as offshore wind power continues to develop off the East of England, and at a time when operators are looking for increased cost effectiveness.

SSI Energy currently has four paramedics working on wind farms in Poland, Ireland, Scotland and Wales as well as offshore medics at various oil and gas companies globally including off West Africa, Australia and the Middle East.

The SCORE grant is helping the company to grow the venture by employing a new business development manager, Jonathan Walker, who has nine years’ experience in similar work with United Health Care (previously Frontier Medics). He will look to serve the Southern North Sea offshore wind industry through an office based at either Great Yarmouth or Lowestoft.

The aim is to have one medic technician in each team of around 24 to 36 workers. SSI’s medics not only provide the emergency service at remote locations, but do primary health screening – signposting workers with health issues to visit their GPs – and look at staff wellbeing, to aid their physical and mental health.

Many of SSI’s medics are ex-servicemen who use their military robustness and enthusiasm in the new field of offshore energy.

Mr Higham himself served 10 years as a Major in the Royal Marines, including three tours of Afghanistan, before founding SSI in 2012. He trained as a medic in Cape Town with the ambulance service providing emergency care to the local town ships. His wife Katie, the company medical advisor, served in the Royal Navy for 10 years rising to Lt Cdr in charge of a warship before training as a doctor.

Rob Bush, SCORE project manager, said: “This is a really innovative model that also brings a new concept and employment to the area.

“It fits perfectly with our aim to unleash great new ideas which lower costs and increase efficiencies in offshore renewable energy.”

SCORE offers grants to help companies across England to develop new products, processes and ideas – from patenting a product to exploring concepts that offer new ways of solving problems and driving efficiency in offshore renewables.

Grants are available to start-up and established companies for up to 40% of eligible costs or £50,000, whichever is the lower, with a minimum grant of £2,500.

The fund has now been rolled out across England, as long as applicants can show their work will bring economic benefit to the east of England.

The programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and is open to companies with fewer than 250 employees and an annual turnover of less than 50 million euros.

The funding is designed to help companies in a wide range of areas, including research and development, collaboration with universities and research bodies, securing patents, acquiring specialist equipment or services and investigating the commercial viability of processes and technologies.

Companies can also access up to 12hrs of subsidised business support from regional enterprise agency Nwes to help grow and develop their business.

The current programme is delivered by OrbisEnergy in partnership with enterprise specialists Nwes, energy industry experts Nautilus Associates and the national Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult centre.

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