Renewable energy is counted on for both a cleaner environment and reducing American dependence on foreign oil. That’s why the wind energy industry is a fast-growing sector of the U.S. economy. In 2014, over one million people were employed by wind farms, with that number expected to double over the next decade.
While this is good for the economy and the energy industry, more employees can also mean more workplace safety incidents.
Safety challenges in the wind industry
Job growth means a whole new set of challenges, and the issue of wind turbine safety is squarely on the radar of the Occupation & Safety Health Administration (OSHA) and the industry itself.
There are a number of risks that wind turbine workers face, but they fall roughly into two general categories: falls and electrical accidents.
OSHA requires that workers have fall protection underneath them whenever they are at a height of six feet or more. Wind turbines are getting increasingly bigger. Any accidents will likely be well above the six-foot threshold.
As wind farms grow in number and available space decreases, more turbines are being built closer to other structures—schools, homes, etc. The industry prefers about 500 meters of space for maximum safety, but that’s increasingly difficult to get.
The surest way for employers to protect their people is to ensure the harnesses which hold them during a climb are in excellent shape and each worker has one that fits perfectly. Care must also be taken that workers aren’t ascending the turbine in a situation where they have to hurry or are tired.
An alarming number of accidents are caused by electrical shocks to the worker inside the turbine. It’s not hard to understand why—the very nature of the windmill means that flammable materials are in close quarters with electrical wires, all with a windmill powering away at a rapid rate.
If at all possible, workers should not be allowed to climb into a live unit. Developing regulations for that might be a worthy next step for OSHA.
Whether you work with wind turbines or in another dangerous workplace, read our tips on staying safe on the job.