By Susan Rambo
After watching the recent winter Olympics, we can all appreciate the athlete’s journey to master the physics of a sport while confronting the limitations of the human body. The analogy of athlete easily applies to the wind tech, those workers who construct and maintain wind towers, often at heights of 300 feet, and then use their skill and knowledge to fix huge machine. If there were industrial Olympics, the wind techs would be stars.
It’s not just an analogy. Industrial athlete is a term the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) uses in a series of webinars on ergonomics for the wind tech. Well-known ergonomics hazards include excess vibration from power tools that can inhibit the blood flow and induce repetitive use injury, and loud power tools that damage hearing. Meanwhile, industry continues to innovate on tools that can help avoid worker injury.
AWEA’s Environmental Health & Safety committee is recognized by ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) as a creator of worker safety standards for the U.S. wind industry. AWEA also engages with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOS) and OSHA, United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the regulatory body that watches over the American worker’s body.
As AWEA holds its 2018 Wind Project O&M and Safety Conference this week (February 27 to 28), an event where the U.S. wind industry shares safety data and works on standards, it will be interesting to see what comes out of the presentations.
First, what are the top safety concerns in wind for the wind worker? According to OSHA, there are a few.
- Confined Spaces
- Medical and First Aid
- Crane, Derrick and Hoist Safety
- Machine Guarding
- Respiratory Protection
The Wind Energy Foundation summarizes worker safety concerns for the wind-power industry as crane safety, fall protection, hand injuries, and housekeeping (keeping the jobsite clean).
A fall-protection code
The new 2016 ANSI/ASSE (American Society of Safety Engineers) Z359 Fall Protection Code standards are out but ANSI fails to certify manufacturer’s equipment, says Randall Wingfield in a recent blog. He is the chair of the ANSI Z359 Committee. It’s buyer beware. “Buy the code,” he wrote, “Reference the code; ask questions of their equipment supplier; require verification of compliance.”
ISO/IEC 17025-accredited testing facility will perform the tests on equipment, so look for reputable ISO/IEC 17025 lab’s tests of equipment before buying.
The release of Z359 Fall Protection Code standards builds on the 2007 release by defining in more detail the requirements for each system and how each system is tested and taught. It covers fall-restraint, work-positioning, rope-access, fall-arrest, and rescue systems.
OSHA regulations require protection for workers who work at — and could fall from — heights of at least 4 to 6 ft. The regulations also require employers to provide fall protection for employees climbing or working on fixed ladders above 24 ft. Wind techs often work at heights of 100 ft. or more, and may be exposed to high winds. AWEA standards require a personal fall-arrest system such as twin-tail lanyard and self-retracting lifelines.
Walking to work offshore
Motion compensated gangways are making ship-to-tower transfers safer for wind techs. Called walk to work (W2W) solutions, gangway examples include the Safeway gangway from Van Aalst Group.
Ampelmann’s A400 gangway system, an A-type system, on the Vroon’s VOS Stone Vessel has a wider walkway and motion compensation system. The gangway on the VOS Stone Vessel will make work safer for offshore wind techs at the Arkona offshore wind farm in the German Baltic Sea.
Reducing tower time
Although the U.S. Labor Department says wind tech jobs in the U.S. will increase by 96% by 2026, as in many industries, those numbers could be affected by new technology. The average wind tech may not have to go up a tower as often if drones and tower climbing robots can do some of the inspection work and help synchronize maintenance needs.
The United Kingdom is using its government InnovateUK fund to invest in automated inspections for undersea and offshore sites. UK’s ORE (Offshore Renewable Energy) Catapult research and test center will help innovators achieve the goal.
“The Emerging and Enabling Technologies funding from Innovate UK is well suited to the offshore renewables sector,” said Andrew Macdonald, senior innovation manager for ORE Catapult in a press release. “There is a rapidly growing demand for innovation in sensors, robotics, satellite applications and data analytics in the sector to help reduce the cost of energy.”
Artificial intelligence and machine learning promises to help keep a human being’s trips up tower down with predictive maintenance and data gleaned from drone inspections. Maintenance can be synchronized so the wind tech’s time — and exposure to danger — is used more wisely.
‘Designing out’ hazards
U.S. OSHA recommends designing out the hazards. OSHA says on its green jobs’ page “A key concept for all industries, but especially those that are just beginning to grow, is ‘Prevention through Design (PtD)’ — designing the process/equipment in a way that eliminates hazards to the workers who use them.
Employers should have a system in place where safety and health professionals work with design engineers in ‘designing out’ hazards throughout the design phase of their products.”
It’s a good idea to design out the safety issues. NIOSH’s Prevention through Design Program is a start and it recognizes that the green industry should take the lessons in worker safety learned from other industries. (Green doesn’t necessarily mean safe.)
Maybe someday the Vortex Bladeless windmill will negate any need for tower climbing maintenance altogether.