While GE has dedicated EHS staff, Holt said, they are limited in number. “Instead we rely on people who have extra EHS training to be part-time EHS people that are more highly trained than regular workers. They’re there at the site, and there are more of them than the full-time EHS folks. And everyone has a certain level of awareness. Everyone’s an EHS person,” he said.
GE’s workers are also trained to take responsibility for personal injury prevention. Climbing up and down wind towers is strenuous exercise: Holt refers to wind O&M as “an athletic event” and to GE’s workers as “industrial athletes” who receive gym memberships, healthy eating training and stretching programs to begin the working day.
Learning From Other Industries
Naturally, a young industry will look to older sectors for guidance. “There’s a whole climbing industry out there, people who climb mountains, TV towers; there’s a lot of working at heights in the world. We reach out to those industries because they’re often ahead of us,” said Holt. And GE’s safety policies have been informed by its experience in other sectors. “We have a safety culture born of GE aircraft engines, gas turbines, the nuclear business, the railroad industry, the medical industry” which has been applied to the younger wind business, he said.
Tecnicians at the Siemens wind service training center in Newcastle, U.K. learn about safety when performing wind O&M. Credit: Siemens.
For an example, he explained, “In the nuclear business the last thing you want to do is drop tools — you don’t want to drop something metal into a nuclear reactor or any part of a nuclear system. Our nuclear business has a variety of tethering technologies that help us tie up tools so if you drop them they don’t fall, and we’ve applied that to working at heights — you don’t want to drop something down through a wind turbine tower either.”
Rose believes that “talking to other industries” is critical to moving wind safety forward. Experience from the offshore oil & gas industry, for example, could help in setting up requirements for the new types of service vessels that will be increasingly used as wind farms move further offshore.
GE is “constantly changing our procedures and products in order to be safer,” Holt said. “And we’re always watching the latest regulations, rules and codes to make sure our products are compliant.” Trade associations AWEA and EWEA are particularly active in pushing legislation and procedures to help improve safety, he said.
Safety standards and procedures will continue to be adapted in reaction to wind farm accidents, Rose said, but “on the other hand we can help put rules in place where we see a need, not based on incident statistics but supported by a risk profile.” The industry wants to not just be reactive, he said, but to be ahead of the game.
Among other issues, the GWO is currently looking into safety procedures for vessel-to-site crew transfers, working with the International Maritime Organization to establish standards. It is also looking at designing tests and standards for worker fitness, for example to avoid cases of seasickness or dizziness at height. And, Rose said, as wind sites move further away from population centers and even from land, there is a growing need for training requirements for advanced first aid workers who can “close the gap” between emergency medical staff, who may take a while to arrive at the scene of an accident, and basic first aid.
On-site safety is a “continually moving target,” said Rose, “because we don’t know what’s going to happen. We can anticipate events and try to work in that direction, but we may get surprised along the way and have to shift lanes. You don’t know what’s going to hit you,” he concludes.
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