HEAD teachers are being asked to venture out into hurricane-force conditions to switch off wind turbines in school playgrounds.
That is one of the claims of far north anti-wind farm protesters who have heavily criticised Highland Council’s safety review of school-based turbines.
This week, after releasing its own report, Caithness Windfarm Information Forum (CWIF) is calling on the playground turbines to be removed pending an independent assessment of the risks they pose.
CWIF chairman Stuart Young said yesterday the council’s existing protocol required head teachers to switch off the devices when blade speeds reach 80mph.
The local authority also decrees that turbines are not allowed to be operated at 107 mph – a figure which Mr Young claims makes a mockery of the official risk assessment as this is a speed more associated with mountain peaks.
He said the council’s document was written to save money and maintained that pupil and staff safety was not the top priority.
"They haven’t carried out a competent risk assessment as one of the measures they’ve introduced is for head teachers to go out in an 80mph gale and turn off the turbine," he said.
"They would have to revert to crawling on their hands and knees to get to it at those speeds.
"If they don’t understand the risk that poses to the head teachers, they are not competent to carry out a risk assessment for the children.
"Their measures put the teacher at greater risk to carry out the safety steps than the children face from the turbines."
Mr Young believes the cut-off point should be when wind speeds reach between 40mph and 50mph as he says there have been incidents in which turbines have toppled over at speeds of 60mph.
"The whole tone of the risk assessment is to justify having these turbines in school playgrounds," he said.
"If there is a potential risk – and logic and evidence tells us that – there is no good reason to put pupils, teachers or passers-by in danger. There has to be a proper review by a competent body. I hope my report will lead to the removal of turbines from school playgrounds."
The council states that its risk assessment last October confirmed the school-based turbines were a safe operation.
During the exercise, turbines were shut down for seven months at a number of schools including Bower, Castletown, Crossroads, Pulteneytown Academy and South Primary in Wick.
All the turbines were restarted in November after they were deemed safe.
Steve Barron, the council’s depute chief executive, said safety within school grounds was of paramount importance.
He said: "We undertook a comprehensive exercise of risk-assessing our use of micro turbines on school sites, using professionally qualified engineers in conjunction with the Building Research Establishment (BRE), the leading expert in this area of work," he said.
"As the result of thorough site specific assessments, the council is now leading the way in assessing and managing risk in the use of micro turbines.
"We have robust inspection and maintenance regimes in place and are confident that the safety of these turbines is assured."