Why Leaders in the Renewable Energy Sector Need to Humanise Risk Awareness

Published on Oct 1, 2021
Renewables are expected to supply
of global electricity by 2040.
up from 26.2% in 2018

Yet while renewable energy is good for the planet, it presents substantial safety hazards for workers in the field who often work alone or in small teams. Whether it's working at high levels on wind turbines or the electrical risk of working on solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, renewable energy companies have worked hard to improve safety protocols that protect employees.

With safety remaining a top priority, the additional challenge of new technological development across the renewable sector as it evolves now requires leaders to take a more holistic approach to health and safety. When developing risk awareness initiatives, a strategy that recognises the human impact will be essential as organisations scale up to meet higher renewable energy demands.

Empower employees
Helping employees to think independently about the consequences of their actions on a job-by-job basis will be a vital risk assessment skill in the renewable energy sector. While employees may have conducted the same or similar tasks previously, the environment or climate can differ from one day to the next. It's essential that employees don't ‘normalise' risk and switch off. Even when conducting the same task, safety decisions should reflect a change in the working environment. Training that focuses on keeping the brain engaged and alert to changing conditions that impact safety choices encourages employees to become more conscious of the situation before they act. By empowering team members to understand and respond to a changing risk landscape, companies help employees develop individual responsibility for proactive safety behaviours, rather than reactive ones.

Understand decision drivers
There is often an emphasis on following safety procedures and having the right equipment that has been safety checked. Yet while these are essential steps to take, they sometimes overlook hidden factors that determine employees' actions; not having enough sleep, working to tight schedules, or emotional stress at home can all cloud and impact safety decisions. These are situations that no standard training manual can fully cover yet are important drivers of decisions. It's vital that leaders and top management understand and recognise the signs of stress by looking beyond formal safety training. By widening the safety lens, renewable energy companies acknowledge that health and safety is a 24/7 issue. This helps mitigate risk and improve operational resilience allowing renewable energy companies to compete to the highest standards.

Risk perception is individual
Safety is often referred to as common sense; having the common sense not to put yourself in danger or take a risk. But risk perception is individual, so one employee may have a higher tolerance for heights than another, or an employee may have experienced risk during the same procedure that a colleague has not. So while the task is the same, the risk perception and tolerance are different, which means decisions taken will also be different. Focusing on compelling communication that humanises risk helps companies highlight the many different perceptions of risk. Coaching and training at both leadership and team levels help understand the dynamics of risk perception and give the confidence needed to voice concerns. Encouraging safety champions can help strengthen safety initiatives deeper within the organisation.

By promoting and raising awareness of risk perception differences, safety actions are supported.

Risk versus reward
Companies in the renewable energy sector should ensure that safety and operational procedures are fully aligned. Targets and timelines are standard company components that help frame operational and employee efficiency. But when industries are in a growth phase, targets can be raised, and timelines tightened indirectly impacting safety behaviours. It's the dilemma of risk versus reward whereby a task may get accelerated to finish faster without a complete analysis of the situation. Company culture can also play a part where safety behaviour is influenced by colleagues and leaders. If unsafe actions or excessive risk-taking go unchallenged, it becomes the cultural norm and poor behaviours are replicated. When good safety culture becomes part of a company's DNA, it moves the focus from encouraging risk-taking to being rewarded for safe actions.

As the renewable energy industry moves from strength to strength, continuing to develop a good safety culture will not only be the right thing to do; it will give a competitive advantage. Reinforcing risk awareness programmes not only improve safety for employees, it injects agility and resilience into operations. This, in turn, improves operational efficiency allowing renewable energy firms to compete at the highest levels.

"By humanising risk awareness, renewable energy companies can develop a safety programme that aligns with their green credentials, which is vital in creating a safety culture fit for sustainable and successful business performance."

– Marta Lema Garabatos, Head of Renewable Energy, Europe

Four safety lessons for the renewable energy sector

Good safety culture and risk awareness are vital components of the renewable energy sector. So what lessons can be learned that enrich safety and risk awareness to strengthen operational efficiency giving companies a competitive advantage as the industry enters a growth phase?

Lesson #1:
Humanise risk awareness. Incorporating safety skills used outside of the workplace adds much-needed social context to recognise risks at work and gives the ability to address safety issues with more confidence. By humanising risk and being innovative with safety training, companies can equip leaders and employees with skills that enrich their perception of risk.

Lesson #2:
Move from dependent to independent risk awareness. Relying on a static set of safety rules does not consider the constantly changing safety landscape of the renewable energy sector. Giving people the knowledge and tools through coaching and training to make better safety choices independently helps address an ever-changing risk environment.

Lesson #3:
Appoint safety champions. A well-constructed safety programme that engages and inspires adds momentum to better safety behaviours, but it requires a constant stream of programmes and initiatives to keep risk awareness at the forefront of minds. Safety champions sit deep within the organisation to promote, encourage and sustain safety and risk awareness messages. They understand and believe in the importance of risk awareness and help propel good safety behaviours forward.

Lesson #4:
Make safety sustainable. Moving safety from good to great can only happen if companies take ownership of safety programmes and root them into routines that mirror your operations and processes at leadership, management and shop floor levels. Widening the risk awareness lens gives better metrics to chart progress and encourages more sustainable safety behaviours at a deeper organisational level.

As we go forward, companies in the renewable energy sector who make the necessary operational changes to strengthen their occupational safety and health systems will build the required resilience into operations now needed to capture future growth opportunities.

Join the movement

Sustainability is imperative and has become a key focus for all organisations. dss+ has supported small and large companies worldwide on strategies to strengthen, develop and implement sustainable strategies to keep businesses operational in a safe manner.

Using this experience, we have developed dss+ Risk Factor™ that teaches employees how to elevate their awareness and make conscious, deliberate choices when it comes to risk. By humanising risk awareness, renewable energy companies can improve their safety culture and gain a competitive advantage.

As sustainable business takes centre stage, we invite you to join the movement on preparing your teams for future renewable energy challenges together.