Safety Leadership

Safety Leadership: Ready for the safety challenges of alternative energy?


Editor’s Note: Achieving and sustaining an injury-free workplace demands strong leadership. In this monthly column, experts from global consulting firm DEKRA share their point of view on what leaders need to know to guide their organizations to safety excellence.

In response to climate change and global commitments to low-carbon energy sources, significant developments in alternative energy generation and storage technologies are happening now. As a result, new workplace exposures have emerged.

Here are five alternative energy technologies that may create new environmental, health and safety exposures:

Wind energy. Turbines are being manufactured, installed and operated throughout the nation. Although their associated exposures are traditional, vigilant application of controls is required. Hazards related to fall protection, lifting equipment, confined-space entry, and control of electrical energy sources that represent arc-flash and electric-shock exposures can be present. Often, wind turbine construction, maintenance and repairs require workers to enter spaces where they’re exposed to access complications, potential environmental contaminants and extreme heat.

Solar energy. Solar energy can be converted into electricity using photovoltaic or concentrating solar power. PV systems are the most common. Hazards exist related to fall protection, lifting equipment and control of electrical energy sources that represent arc-flash, electric-shock and thermal-burn exposures. Electrical energy isolation challenges often exist because of interconnectivity of PV systems with the electrical grid and PV panels that continue to generate electricity anytime the sun shines on them.

Hydrogen. Most of the proposed models to deliver carbon neutrality by 2050 rely on producing and using green hydrogen as a fuel. Green hydrogen is produced from the electrolysis of water from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydropower.   

Despite being environmentally friendly, hydrogen has significant fire and explosion hazards that include a wide flammable range (4% to 75% in air), very low minimum ignition energy (10 times lower than traditional hydrocarbons) and a rapid burning velocity (detonation hazard). In addition, the gas is odorless and burns with an essentially invisible flame, making releases difficult to detect.

Use of hydrogen indoors requires special considerations for ventilation, electrical classification, explosion venting, and specialized compliance with building and fire codes. Performing detailed risk analyses are essential for hazard identification and proper controls.

Lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion battery technology provides new opportunities for energy storage. Fire and explosion risks have become a major safety concern.

We now better understand reactive chemistry and fire-safety issues related to thermal runaway hazards presented by lithium-ion batteries. They can occur from battery manufacturing defects, charging system malfunctions, end-of-life battery handling and extreme abuse.

Often, battery failure is accompanied by toxic gas, fire, jet flames and explosion hazards. These present unique exposures to workers and emergency responders.

Refrigerants. Refrigerants are critical in air conditioning, food storage and industrial processing. Today’s focus is on refrigerants with low global-warming potential. These new applications can have toxic or flammability properties that didn’t exist previously.

Migration to new refrigerant technologies can introduce expanded coverage under OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency regulations on process safety management, introduce additional requirements in building and fire codes, and present chemical exposure hazards. First responders must be familiar with response procedures to safely handle new-generation refrigerant emergencies.

The push to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 is driving the implementation and development of new clean-energy technologies and introducing new hazards. In 2023, let’s all become better educated so we can respond to these opportunities and challenges.


This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Mike Snyder is the vice president of operational risk management for DEKRA North America’s process safety practice ( As an expert occupational and process safety leader with extensive chemical and municipal risk management sector experience, he guides organizations in pragmatic and cost-effective risk-management decision-making.



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