In  2013 a wind turbine collapsed in a wind farm in Loughderryduff Co. Donegal. A short time later a blade flew off a wind turbine in Corkermore also in Co. Donegal. Whilst Vestas, the manufacturer of Loughderryduff wind turbine, carried out an investigation, the conclusions of this investigation were never published, even though a copy of the investigation report was given to Donegal County Council.

The EU Commission recognises wind turbines as machines as defined by The Machinery Directive and that Article 4 of the Machinery Directive, Market Surveillance, can be applied to wind turbines. This is to determine if the wind turbine type in question was validly CE certified and mechanically complies with The Machinery Directive. Also to ensure that while operating, the wind turbine type in question does not impact on the health and safety of domestic animals, people or property.

The Machinery Directive states, that the material used in machinery must be robust enough not to breakup while operating. The question must be asked why Donegal County Council did not forward a copy of this report to The Health and Safety Authority, the organisation responsible, to check the adequacy of the machine types CE Certification and its compliance with The Machinery Directive?

“Section 1.3.2 Risk of break up during operation The various parts of machinery and their linkages must be able to withstand the stresses to which they are subject when used. The durability of the materials used must be adequate for the nature of the working environment foreseen by the manufacturer or his authorized representative, in particular as regards the phenomena of fatigue, ageing, corrosion and abrasion”

This section of the Machinery  Directive taken with 1.3.1  Risk of loss of stability and 1.3.3 Risks due to falling or ejected objects, implies that any wind turbine that falls down in high wind, or whose blades fly off,  does not comply with the Machinery Directive.

Market Surveillance

The section of The Machinery Directive used to check compliance of equipment commissioned is called Market Surveillance. The Directive describes Market Surveillance as follows:

‘Market surveillance is an essential instrument inasmuch as it ensures the proper and uniform application of Directives. It is therefore appropriate to put in place the legal framework within which market surveillance can proceed harmoniously’

The purpose of Market Surveillance is outlined in Article 4 of The Machinery Directive. This states that once placed on the market, installed or commissioned, the machine satisfies the requirements of the Machinery Directive and does not endanger the Health and Safety of people, property, and where appropriate, domestic animals.  The Directive also states that, where applicable, the machine involved should have no negative impact on the environment. The Machine Directive also sets out the requirements of member states necessary to carry out market surveillance.

Machinery Directive Safety concerns relating to Wind Turbines

Wind Turbine Fires

The Machinery Directive requires that all Machines that are CE Certified placed on the market they must be commissioned operated maintained and decommissioned without putting workers lives in danger. One of the most frequent causes of wind turbine failure is fire. Wind turbines now being commissioned at heights of over 150 meters. Technicians have to climb into these Nacelles to maintain them. These Nacelles contain many thousands of liters of lubrication fluid and /or inflammable laminates. Fires can be caused by power surges, heated brakes or lightning. The fact that technicians are now expected to work, with very little prospect of escape in the event of fire, at such height, in such a confined space, fundamentally questions the compliance of these machines with the Machinery Directive.

Two Engineers died in a wind turbine fire, in Holland, on the 29th of October 2013. The fire services stood around helpless unable to rescue them. See link

Other Issues to be addressed

There are other serious health related to the commissioning of wind turbines in the environment such as infrasound, low frequency noise, ice throw, blade failure and fly off as well as smaller component fly off and wind turbine collapse. These cause serious risk serious risk to domestic animals people and property but are not even considered in the current Wind Turbine Planning regulations. When enforcing the Directive  and carrying out Market Surveillance as required  by The Machinery Directive the risks to those potentially impacted have to be considered.

The Consequence of Failing Market Surveillance

The consequences for any piece of machinery failing market surveillance are severe. In effect they are decertified and removed from the market until they can be recertified and made compliant with The Machinery Directive. No machine, which fulfills the definition of a machine, as defined by the Machinery Directive can be imported or operated within the EU if not CE certified as compliant with The Machinery Directive.

Conclusions

It is the State’s duty to ensure that the appropriate organisation, namely the HSA, enforces the requirements of the Machinery Directive through Market Surveillance on all machinery  that are  regulated by the Directive.  As The EU Commission now accepts that, “wind turbines are considered machines to which the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC applies”, the Irish State should accept its responsibilities by carrying out appropriate Market Surveillance on Wind Turbines.

John Dooley