The wind energy sector is currently one of the fastest-growing sectors. This means that wind turbine safety is also becoming more important. Being renewable energy that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, this growth is understandable. Europe, in particular, has been at the forefront of the wind revolution. European countries installed 16.8 Gigawatts (GW) of additional wind power capacity in 2017. This made it a record year in wind power installations, an increase of 25% compared to 2016. It is now the continent’s second-largest source of power generation in Europe behind only natural gas.
The number of workers employed in various aspects of the wind energy sector is increasing every year. This means the general state of wind turbine safety is of great concern. Many workers are exposed to hazards that could result in injuries, long-term damages, and even fatalities. Where possible, hazards should be eliminated completely. If this is not possible, preventative measures should be taken to reduce the risk. Every worker should receive the proper training to ensure they are aware of the hazards and can stay safe on-site.
Wind Turbine Safety and Other Hazards
- Falls: Wind turbines vary in height, but can be over 100 feet tall. The height of these structures makes wind turbine safety a challenge. As most wind farms are exposed to high winds and all kinds of weather conditions, working at a height is made more dangerous. Workers on wind farms often have to climb ladders multiple times a day. This may result in workers falling if they do not have their harness on properly. In relation to regulations, construction workers on wind farms, when exposed to fall distances of 6 feet or more, must be protected from falls by using:
- Guardrail Systems
- Safety net Systems
- Personal fall arrest systems
- Cranes: Cranes are used during the construction and maintenance of wind farms. Even when cranes are constructed correctly there can still be fatalities. Significant wind turbine safety issues to be considered when operating a crane include:
- Cranes should only to be operated by qualified workers with the right documents and training
- There should be routine inspections before and after each use to ensure wind turbine safety.
- Fully extend outriggers and barricade accessible areas inside the swing radius of the crane
- The crane should be situated on a stable surface
- Keep an eye out for overhead electric power lines and maintain at least a 10-foot working clearance from the lines
- Do not move loads over workers
- Confined Spaces: The majority of wind farm workers work inside the wind turbine which is why ensuring wind turbine safety is so crucial. This is a small space with room for only one worker at a time. Some workers may not find working in a confined space to be a comfortable experience. They may suffer from claustrophobia or panic attacks which is intensified by the low oxygen levels in a turbine. You should ensure your worker is comfortable working in confined spaces and provide clear and simple exit routes.
- First Aid – It’s vital that your workers are trained on first aid as many wind Farms are in remote areas which makes it difficult to reach a hospital quickly. In the event of an accident, you must have someone on site at all times who is fully trained in first aid. It’s a good idea for all your workers to have at least some first aid training and they should all be aware of the location of the first aid box on site.
- Hazardous Gases – During the manufacturing of wind turbine blades workers may be exposed to harmful gases, vapors, and dust. These workers must be protected from these gases through good ventilation and the use of Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) such as respirators. Workers should know from their training which respirator to use and exactly where to get it on site. Good training is a crucial factor in high-quality wind turbine safety.
Hazards of Offshore Wind Farms
There is a lot of crossover in the hazards present in offshore and onshore wind farms. However, offshore wind farms exist in a more demanding natural environment so there are a number of extra hazards. In fact, the biggest hazards of working offshore are that every job is a little more difficult and dangerous as a result of the conditions. Some of the hazards of offshore wind farms include:
- Noise exposure: The weather conditions present on offshore wind farms can make work difficult. High winds, in particular, will make it hard to hear. It is vital that all workers wear appropriate protection on their ears or else they could be exposed to long-term damage to their ears.
- Slips, Trips and Falls: Workers will also be exposed to rainy, wet conditions on offshore wind turbines. Damp and slippy conditions can be extremely hazardous, especially when you consider that you are working at height. Every worker must wear non-slip footwear to protect them from slips or trips that can lead to serious injuries.
- Personnel transfer: The most dangerous part of working on an offshore wind turbine often occurs before you even begin work. Being transferred by a transfer vessel to the wind turbine poses a significant risk. Workers need to be provided with life vests, shown how to use them properly and wear them throughout their transfer. Workers should be trained to know not to travel to the wind turbine during storm conditions as the transfer vessel may be unsafe for the journey. A key to a good transfer is to do it safely but also quickly so as to minimize risks.
Keep Workers Informed
One of the main issues in turbine safety is a lack of communication between management and on-the-ground workers. There is no excuse for not keeping your workers up-to-date with simple things such as where the first aid box is and the correct reporting procedures in case of an emergency. These simple items may be the difference between life and death.