Wind Turbine Safety Standards: Adequate or Not?

Are Wind Turbine Safety Standards Adequate?

Wind Turbine Safety Standards

Rappelling from a Wind Turbine

Last Sunday while skimming the business section of our local newspaper (Eugene's Register Guard), I came across an article on training wind turbine workers so that they can avoid accidents and injuries.

A key point in the article was the problem with existing wind turbine safety standards. The  writer, Tiffany Hsu,  asserted that: "Watchdog groups say a hodgepodge of state and federal renewable energy safety standards haven’t kept up with the growth of the industry. Some were adapted from other industries and don’t specifically cover wind and solar projects, while others are guidelines rather than mandatory regulations. Many are old and are just now being updated."

As a company that spends a fair amount of time training wind turbine workers, I wasn't quite sure what was meant about this "hodgepodge" of regulations. It would seem that OSHA has pretty well spelled out the minimal requirements for working on these structures. In the areas of all protection, confined space entry and hazardous energy control (which are the main hazards workers face), the safety requirements are simple and hard to misinterpret.

If workers are exposed to fall hazards, then the employer has to identify these hazards, develop the means and methods for controlling these hazards and train and equip workers. If the workers will be entering enclosed areas, then again the employer is obligated to identify the hazards and develop the means and methods for controlling or eliminating them. Lockout/tagout has the same requirements.

As far as being adapted from other industries, solar and wind are regulated by OSHA's 1910.269 "Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution." These standards, it would seem, provide pretty specific guidelines for identifying and controlling hazards. And I think if you looked back at accidents that have occurred on wind farms or solar arrays, my guess is that the root cause of these accidents was due to an employer violating on or more of these standards.

Accidents mentioned in the article include: "Technicians have fallen hundreds of feet; others have been crushed by parts or trapped in twisting machinery. Pilots in small planes have crashed into the towers. Electrical explosions last year left a worker in Illinois with third-degree burns and two others in San Diego County with similar injuries."

Again, bad pilots notwithstanding, each of these accidents are addressed by specific provisions of the OSHA codes. Add to that OSHA's General Duty Clause and it's hard to see where additional regulations are needed.

If there is an area of confusion it might be that many employers haven't carefully thought through their emergency action plans but that is true in a wide variety of industries, not just solar and wind.

While it's easy to think that a whole new host of regulations are needed for the supposedly "new" industry, it's my sense that employers simply need to go back and revisit their current obligations under the existing standards.

Jim Johnson July 9, 2014

Comments

  1. Jim,
    I just “discovered” your blogs this morning while reading a LinkedIn update. I really liked your analysis and comments regarding the Wind Turbine Safety Standards, and ended up reading back to the earliest blog entries.
    Thanks for providing these well reasoned arguments. They are both stimulating and thought provoking.

    I have occasionally faced the dilemma of blind compliance v.s. a well reasoned and tested JHA. Now I feel like I have some “company” on the side of reason.

    • Jeff:

      Nice to hear from you and thanks for your kind words. You’re actually the first person to comment on this blog, so I think you deserve some kind of prize or something.

      Guess I’ll see you in a few weeks at the safety conference.

      Take care,

      Jim J.

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