Today, while the need for safe practices is just as great, the stakes are even higher. Wind has become an established source of power generation, providing enough electricity to serve the equivalent of more than six million homes. With the significant growth in the industry, there are even more workers performing intricate tasks at wind turbines that have increased significantly in size. For the companies in our industry, the commitment to safety is stronger than ever.
One sign of that commitment came this past fall, when more than 300 safety and wind industry professionals, many of whom were just learning about the wind industry, attended a health and safety workshop in Denver, Colorado, sponsored by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). They were informed about the major safety-related topics in the wind industry, including operating in confined spaces, “lockout-tagout” rules governing the shutdown of a wind turbine allowing access by wind technicians, protection from falls, safety operating and working around cranes used during construction or maintenance, fire protection, employee training and avoiding arc flash hazards.
The common message delivered at each of these sessions was a simple one: safety is the highest priority at every wind site. Lives depend on it, as does the health of the wind industry.
But attending a conference is not enough. Safety is a high priority at every wind power site every day. Each company and each employee must be keenly aware of the procedures they must follow to ensure a safe environment for the team of technicians building and operating wind farms.
Safety results from companies maintaining and inspecting equipment regularly, as well as training their workers to follow safety rules and procedures established for each operation at the wind site. Wind turbine owners and operators know a turbine is most productive if it is kept in top condition, producing the optimum amount of electricity for a long time, with minimal downtime due to mistakes or accidents.
Each company has a safety professional who oversees safety training for technicians, selection of functional and effective safety equipment, and strict enforcement of safety practices.
Safety equipment and practices benefit from the knowledge of professionals who collectively have decades of experience installing and maintaining more than 200,000 wind turbines around the world.
In addition, many safety devices and practices may be adopted directly from other, even longer-established industries. For example, safety equipment complies with national and international codes and standards, and electrical and fire safety practices are built around established industry guidelines. As the wind industry is clearly an international industry–with turbines and components regularly crisscrossing between countries depending on the country of origin and the market being served–safety standards also are impacted by safety requirements of multiple countries.
Those standards need to be harmonized so that equipment manufactured in any country will meet minimum safety standards anywhere.
Working conditions at a wind site may also present a challenge in providing assistance to a sick or injured worker. Providing medical assistance to workers or removing them from tight places and transporting them to the ground for assistance may require safety equipment and procedures that have been developed specifically for the wind industry.
Wind technicians receive extensive training prior to working in the field, either from the multiple technical training programs available in technical colleges across the U.S. or from company-run safety training programs. The wind industry also wants to make sure that safety practices are uniform throughout the industry.
DEVELOPING BEST PRACTICES
The AWEA Safety Committee is developing a set of best practices used in the industry to create a safe environment. Their goal is to make sure that everyone in the wind industry follows the same safety rules. The set of harmonized safe practices can be used to guide safety training programs.
The rapidly expanding wind industry will require many more safety professionals over the next decades. It is AWEA’s goal to ensure that those professionals are well trained and have a safe environment in which to work.
More proactively, AWEA has taken the initiative to establish a dialogue with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA’s role in prescribing safety practices in wind industry operations is still young—just like the wind industry itself. Regulators need to know from the beginning exactly how wind projects operate so they can fulfill their responsibility effectively. They need to accurately understand the risks in the wind industry and how the companies manage them.
The mission of the wind industry is to provide a clean, domestic, inexhaustible source of electricity to as many customers as possible, which will not be possible unless the workplace is safe. The companies and workers in the wind industry will do whatever it takes to achieve that objective.
For more information, visit www.awea.org. iP