According to Claus Rose, chairman of the Global Wind Organization (GWO) and environment, health and safety (EHS) officer for Siemens’ Wind Power Division, safety procedures are now becoming an integral part of OEMs’ commercial strategies and are increasingly business-critical. As well as wanting to keep its workers safe, he said the industry is responding to increased regulatory scrutiny: “Authorities in a number of countries are starting to ask how the industry can assure that it has a proper safety policy in place, and how we materialize that. These authorities want evidence that we have it under control.”
Rose said that while the wind industry is self-regulating with “very few” legal requirements around its business practices, safety procedures have evolved as the wind industry has grown, and organizations such as the GWO have worked to establish standards and promote their use.
Wind service techncians check their safety equipment at the Panther Creek Wind Farm. Credit: GE.
Andy Holt, head of global projects and services at GE Renewable Energy, said the industry recognizes that safety is a collective concern. It is “neutral ground” where competitors work together to share best practices. “This raises the bar for the industry,” he said. “My counterparts — the people who run [EHS] businesses for our competitors — feel the same way. I’ll share every one of our best practices tomorrow with anyone who wants them because they might help someone do their job more safely,” he continued.
A High-risk Job
Among the areas of highest risk for wind farm workers, Rose pointed to the risk of electrical incidents when working with high- and low-voltage equipment as “highly critical.” Such incidents can result in explosions and serious injury.
“Then you have very simple things which people don’t realize are problems,” he continued. Materials handling, where workers “carry around very heavy stuff in conditions that are cramped, closed and very tight,” is such an area. Manual handling training is part of the GWO’s standard for basic safety training.
During turbine installation, lifting is a major area of concern. “This is where the industry is very different from oil & gas offshore, or other major construction onshore,” Rose said. “The number of lifts we do on a turbine site, whether during installation or O&M, is extremely high.” According to Rose, lifting is a main focus area for safety within the wind industry.
When asked about the safety concerns related to working at height, Rose said: “Sometimes there is an assumption that just because it is very high up in the air it must, by default, be a major risk area. It isn’t, because we have a very good idea of how to control it, the safety systems involved are quite well developed, and we have well-equipped turbines.” While working at height is always a risk, he said, and it is “definitely on the radar,” it is not the most significant concern at this time.
For Holt, the safety areas GE is mostfocused on are working at height, lockout/tagout, and driver safety.
Lockout/tagout, or LOTO, allows workers to put a personal lock on any power source while working on it, “tagging” it during the work so only that worker can unlock it and return it to service when the work is finished.
“Then we have soft tissue injuries,” Holt said, where workers can “flip and hurt their back, try to lift something and strain their shoulder, twist an ankle.” These injuries are “regrettable” and “we struggle to eliminate them — everyone does,” he said. But of greater concern are driving accidents — “One of the most dangerous things people do every day is drive,” he said — where workers may be driving big trucks in remote areas on unprepared roads, or even off-road. Holt said all of GE’s drivers receive yearly defensive driving training.
During installation, he said, there is “a lot of crane work and the risk from suspended loads is huge. You’ve got very large cranes lifting very tall tower sections and aligning them; then people bolting things together — so in addition to working at height, LOTO and heavy equipment handling there are also suspended loads.” Working under a suspended load is forbidden and workers “have to constantly make sure there’s no one under the load,” he said.
Instilling a Safety Culture
Rose said safety on the job has “a lot to do with mentality.” Siemens aims to “instill in [workers] a mindset of safety” that goes beyond the work environment, he adds.
In general, Rose is against micro-regulating aspects of the work environment such as housekeeping, the industry term for keeping work areas clean and free of obstructions. “Mentality is more important than making rules,” he said; “rules are the outcome of poor management.” With good management and high worker awareness, “you can have very few rules. If workers have good risk awareness, they’ve already done whatever it takes to move everything that can put them in harm’s way.” Workers’ personal and professional commitment to safety will reduce accidents more than management telling them to be safe, he said.
A tower at the Siemens wind service training ceter in Orlando, Florida. Credit: Siemens.
Further, he stressed that good management includes explaining to workers why safety rules and procedures are important. “If you say [workers] cannot do something and don’t tell them why, and they don’t understand the risks associated with it,” the rules will be less effective, he said. In the U.S., Siemens has developed a campaign for workers called I Am Safety that “takes the campaign back into the home,” asking whether workers would consider something safe to do at home.
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