Forbes Reaches To Find Wind Power Fatalities

In a column for Forbes, the head of the Institute for Energy Research exaggerated the safety risks associated with wind power by including suicides, murders, and several other fatalities that have little to do with wind industry safety in order to misleadingly claim that the oil and gas is “one of the safest” industries.

Robert Bradley Jr., the CEO of the fossil fuel industry-funded Institute for Energy Research, claimed that wind turbines “present significant safety risks for humans,” adding: “Since the 1970s, 133 fatalities have occurred on turbines -- that's a high figure considering the relatively small size of the wind sector.” That figure comes from an anti-wind group whose list includes a wind plant construction worker shot during a protest against the plant, a wind turbine operator found hanging in an apparent suicide, a man who committed suicide after opposition to wind turbines on his land, a man that died while climbing a turbine for a class, a snowmobile hitting the fence around a wind farm construction site, and a “shirtless and shoeless” man electrocuted inside of a windmill.

More credible statistics show that in 2012 there were 12 wind industry deaths worldwide -- eight of which were in China where workplace safety standards are lax. In the U.S., the American Wind Energy Association has allied with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to train workers on fall, electrical, and crane hazards. By comparison, 1,384 people died in coal mine accidents in China last year, and sulfur pollution alone contributes to about 400,000 premature deaths in China annually.

Estimates of the number of deaths per terawatt hour based on data from the World Health Organization and occupational safety statistics have also found that fossil fuels contribute to far more deaths than wind energy:

Based on data compiled by The Next Big Future's Brian Wang

In addition to exaggerating deaths from the wind industry, Bradley calls oil and gas “one of the safest” industries, claiming that in 2011 there were “2.3 incidents of injury and illness per 100 oil and gas workers,” compared with “3.5 incidents per 100 for the entire private sector.” But that figure, taken from oil industry talking points, is the non-fatal rate of injury. Oil and gas extraction workers have an annual occupational fatality rate more than seven times higher than the rate for all U.S. workers. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that while the rate of nonfatal injuries and illnesses is lower in the mining industry (which encompasses the oil and gas extraction industry) than the average for private industry, “these injuries are often of a severe nature, as evidenced by the higher median days away from work.”

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

UPDATE (4/12/13): Bradley has responded to this post at a “free-market energy blog,” acknowledging that the claim of 133 wind deaths should be lowered by “a few” and that it is "[f]air enough" to point out that he mistakenly referred to the non-fatal injury rate in the oil and gas industry as the total injury rate. He has not corrected his blog on Forbes to reflect this.