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The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is in the midst of releasing several best practices designed to ensure the health and safety for workers at its member companies. The wide-ranging effort, detailed on “Best Practices Establish Baseline Safety Requirements”, includes an agreement in principle aimed to provide uniformity to an industry sorely lacking it.

The agreement, which begins in July, calls for turbine makers to manufacture wind turbine components and parts to meet U.S. codes and standards. The agreement, in part, addresses an uncomfortable reality for the U.S. wind industry: The majority of wind turbines currently operating in the U.S. do not comply with the fixed ladder clearance standard of the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA).

While AWEA is requesting a variance from OSHA for wind turbines currently operating, the agreement represents a go-forward opportunity to correct a misstep that dates back to the mid to late 1990s, when wind turbines began arriving en masse into the U.S. from Denmark, Spain and other parts of Europe. Because many of these providers based their U.S. models on turbine specs used in their country of origin, ladder clearances (which allow wind technicians to ascend and descend the ladder) do not comply with OSHA regulation.

Per OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.27, fixed ladders require a clearance of 30 inches from the ladder to allow technicians to safely ascend and descend. OSHA defines minimum clearances from fixed ladders to the “nearest permanent object” on the climbing side of the ladder and states that there shall be no potential hazards within 24 inches. If there are permanent obstructions within the climbing space, OSHA requires that they be shielded.

OSHA was first clued in to the ladder-clearance issue from an opportunistic whistleblower who designed and later sold a product that addressed the very issue he brought to the federal agency. Since then, AWEA, owners and operators, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and the entire supply chain have engaged in ongoing dialogue to educate the federal agency on wind industry idiosyncrasies.

Because design standards vary widely among OEMs, making the required fix means significant engineering and field investment to ensure compliance. Some OEMs, such as Siemens, design wind towers internally, while others, such as GE, farm out the job to third parties. Others, such as Nordex, offer fixed ladders that require technicians to climb with their backs to the center of the tower, as opposed to having their backs to the wall of the structure.

The good news, however, is that once and for all, the wind industry has agreed to address one of its dirty little secrets. w

Wind Bearings

Wind Bearings