Offshore Wind Worker Injuries: Taking a Closer Look at America's Commitment to Renewable Energy
On December 8, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order calling on the Federal Government “to lead by example in order to achieve a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050.”
One of the key parts of this will be harnessing the power of offshore wind. Biden’s plan calls for the United States to generate 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030. We have the technical capacity, however, to produce more than 7,200 terawatt-hours of electricity just from offshore wind power sources. That is nearly twice as much electricity as was used in the U.S. in 2019.
The U.S. is already working on building renewable energy sources by way of offshore wind production. New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced as a part of her 2022 State of the State Address that New York would be moving aggressively into offshore wind, starting with a $500 million investment and a plan that would create enough renewable energy to power approximately 3 million homes. The plan would also create about 6,800 high-paying jobs for skilled workers.
While New York’s offshore wind production plan may be the most ambitious, other states have continued to invest in offshore wind, and more will follow. The U.S. offshore wind pipeline grew by about 25% from 2020 to 2021, with the Coastal Virginia Offshore Pilot project, Massachusetts Vineyard Wind I, and the New York Bight.
Offshore wind power can be harnessed in the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and even the Great Lakes.
Is Offshore Wind Work Dangerous?
Working offshore is demanding and dangerous. This is true for offshore oil and gas workers and for the workers who will be responsible for building, operating, and maintaining the offshore wind facilities that will make clean, renewable energy possible. In addition to facing hazards posed by offshore wind turbines themselves, workers will face risks as they are transported to and from offshore wind farms.
Offshore wind workers have already experienced serious harm. In July of 2021, 4 workers lost their lives when their wind turbine installation vessel tilted. The Sheng Ping 001, which was converted to its new use from an offshore jack-up rig, was finishing construction on the Huizhou Gangkou I wind farm in the South China Sea when the incident happened. As offshore wind production increases so may worker injuries and deaths – unless employers take more measures to protect their safety.
Tens of thousands of U.S. workers will be needed to construct and maintain offshore wind farms, which already have turbine blades extending up to 260 feet. There is a prototype expected to go into production this year with blades measuring 387 feet. By 2035, 5 years after we are supposed to have met our goal of generating 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power, offshore wind turbines are expected to be 500 feet tall.
Turbine failure and blade detachment are two catastrophic events that could seriously injure offshore wind workers. They may also face risks like hurricanes, tumultuous seas, unseaworthy vessels, equipment malfunction, fires, and explosions. This leads one to wonder: how will offshore workers be protected? What can they do if they are injured?
What Can Injured Offshore Wind Workers Do?
The people who work at building and maintaining offshore wind farms may be protected by various maritime laws. General maritime law requires offshore employers to provide reasonably safe workplaces for their employees. Injured offshore wind farm workers could be entitled to maintenance and cure and additional compensation if their injuries were caused by unseaworthy vessels.
There are other, more specific maritime laws that may apply as well. The Jones Act applies to seamen who are harmed or lose their lives because of the negligence of their employers or vessel owners. The Death on the High Seas Act (DOSHA) may allow the family of an offshore wind worker lost in international waters to take legal action against at-fault parties for negligence or wrongdoing. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) may apply to harbor workers, longshoremen, and shipbuilders involved in the construction, maintenance, or decommissioning of offshore wind installations.
Understanding which laws apply, who can be held responsible, and how to help injured workers get the treatment and financial support they need will be crucial steps to take in the aftermath of an offshore wind accident.
Protecting All Offshore Workers’ Rights
America’s foray into offshore wind production will impact maritime law. As leading maritime lawyers, we at Arnold & Itkin stand for injured offshore workers and for families who have lost loved ones at sea. We are prepared to fight for offshore wind workers’ rights and will do everything in our power to make sure the companies that want to capitalize on renewable energy are held responsible for keeping workers safe.
To find out more about your rights as an offshore wind installation worker, call (888) 346-5024. We’re standing by to help.