The global fall protection equipment market is expected to develop at a compound annual growth rate of just under 6% from 2015 to 2019. This is one prediction from a recent report by research and advisory firm Technavio.
“Fall protection equipment is increasingly becoming an integral part of safety and protection equipment in the energy sector,” said Technavio VP, Faisal Ghaus, in a recent statement. “And specifically in wind energy because of the elevated heights of wind towers, along with the unavailability or longer reach times of rescue crews.”
In the U.S. falls are the leading cause of construction worker fatalities. On average, between 150 and 200 workers are killed and more than 100,000 are injured each year as a result of falls at construction sites. In response, fall-arrest systems have become commonplace in the wind industry and have evolved into quite sophisticated devices. Many offer secondary fail-safes or slide traps that give workers a backup plan should they lose grip while working at height.
Fall protection products offer a variety of options and have come a long way in recent years. Developments include one-handed climb-assist systems, shock-absorbing lifelines, and breathable harnesses made of materials that wick moisture away from the body.
In the wind industry, even items as basic as climbing gloves are gaining appeal because workers and safety personnel are recognizing that a good grip originates with the hands. The ergonomics of a strong, tireless hold can’t be underestimated when ascending a vertical climb of 200 to 300 feet, especially in cold temperatures.
Fall protection and tool manufacturers in the industry are also focusing efforts on devices as small as tool lanyards. These retractable gadgets ensure a tool, such as a wrench or a tape measure, stays attached to a worker for his or her own safety at heights, and for the safety of those below. Although this didn’t happen at a wind farm, just last year in New Jersey, a man was killed when struck by a tape measure that fell some 400 feet.
The risk of exposure to arc-flash hazards—when an electrical current leaves its intended pathway and travels through the air or to the ground—has increased because of the frequent use of higher voltages and advanced fault currents. Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published its first-ever arc-flash protection requirements for electric power industries, and issued significant changes to the “Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution Standard,” which covers electrical safety requirements.
The new standard incorporates a number of important updates, including an April 2015 amendment to personal protective equipment (PPE) for those employees who operate or maintain electric power generation, transmission, or distribution lines. Across construction fields, OSHA estimates the PPE rule alone will prevent 20 fatalities and 118 serious injuries annually. (Learn more here).
OSHA’s updates also cover new rules for minimum approach distances and for calculating arc-flash hazards, which are relevant to wind technicians, who often work in high-powered electrical environments, including substations.
The Administration’s revisions also address the frequency and magnitude of arc-flash hazards in high-voltage facilities. They maintain new training requirements for working with electrical equipment and fall protection equipment. At times overlooked or undervalued, training can make a big impact when it comes to safety. Even the most sophisticated and refined safety gear can only do so much if it isn’t being employed properly.
“Training is an integral part of our total solution in fall protection because no fall protection equipment—regardless of how effective—can save an employee who is not properly trained in its use,” said Lisa Burns, technical training and operations manager for Honeywell Safety Products.
Along with demonstrations and hands-on, simulation exercises (at heights and in confined spaces), training should include information on proper equipment fitting and inspection. Many training facilities today offer mobile training towers, so they can teach at any location. Training should also meet the OSHA standards.
Although it’s tough to compete with real-life experiences on the job, effective training can help set the standard for safety at a worksite. With the proper fall protection gear, it can also provide technicians with the confidence and skill set necessary to achieve a safer, more productive work environment—which, ultimately, should be the goal at any wind power site. WPE
Filed Under: O&M, Safety, Towers