For years, the wind power industry maintained that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did not understand the nuances of wind energy and, therefore, did not give the industry fair treatment in cases involving safety-related incidents at wind farms. However, the agency is sharpening its focus on wind energy.
In fact, more than 40 inspectors and department heads recently spent two days learning about techniques for wind turbine tower climbing, climb and rescue procedures, and proper lockout/tagout procedures.
Michele Myers Mihelic, manager of labor, health and safety policy at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), says the program's intent was to clear up the misconceptions about wind energy.
In turn, AWEA hopes that by inviting OSHA, it will receive more consistent treatment among the organization's federal office, 15 state offices and 10 regional offices.
‘In the past, safety incidents would have been judged differently across OSHA districts,’ Myers Mihelic says. ‘Now, hopefully, that will not be the case.’
Myers Mihelic says the program was spurred by several recent safety incidents that attracted media coverage – and more attention from OSHA.
According to AWEA, 37 OSHA personnel were trained to climb the ladder structure of a wind turbine and perform self-rescue. They were also able to access a wind turbine nacelle in order to develop a better understanding of how a wind turbine operates, Myers Mihelic says.
The seven OSHA employees who did not climb the wind turbine toured Invenergy's Grand Ridge wind project, located in Marseilles, Ill. Trainers from Tech Safety Lines, UpWind Solutions and Rope Partners assisted in the program.
‘Trainees went through a rigorous six-station course to practice all essential elements of a successful rescue operation,’ Myers Mihelic explains. ‘They learned how to operate a harness from a standing and suspended position, how to escape from inside a turbine tower and the top of a nacelle, how to deploy a fall-arrest lanyard and rigging, and how to rescue incapacitated victims on a fixed ladder.’
This understanding is crucial for OSHA workers when they review safety incidents, she adds.
Myers Mihelic says the safety-training program is notable because, contrary to popular belief, it is not constructed so that OSHA can begin random inspections of wind farms.
The training program is one of the results of an alliance formed between OSHA and AWEA in August 2011. Through the program, OSHA works with groups committed to worker safety and health in order to prevent workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses.
OSHA's increased emphasis on wind energy includes the formation of a task force to learn more about wind energy.
Tom Bielema, OSHA area director and task force member, says the hands-on training providing task force members with the ‘proper knowledge, skills, equipment and understanding that they will need to perform their required functions. It is important to understand the conditions that the external customers work on or are responsible for.’