With the rapid growth of wind turbines as a clean source of power throughout the country and around the world, thousands of people are being employed to install and maintain these giant electricity generators. While these are often great jobs, they can also be quite dangerous, which is why all companies in this industry need to take a close look at wind turbine safety.
In 2012 there were over 45,000 new turbines put up, with thousands more already in existence. The rate at which they are being installed is only continuing to increase, which means the jobs of those working on the turbines are going to be quite busy. In order to keep everyone as safe as possible, let’s look at the top five potential hazards for those who work with wind turbines.
Hazard #1 – Falling
As almost everyone would guess, falling is one of the biggest hazards associated with working on wind turbines. While there are safety devices in place, and personal protection equipment is always required when working on these giant turbines, it is still a very real risk.
While a fall can occur at any time, one of the biggest times of risk is when the turbine is actually being installed. Employees need to climb up carefully to ensure everything is in place, and if they don’t properly secure themselves to the turbine, one bad step could lead to disaster.
One thing that many people fail to remember, however, is that a fall doesn’t always mean dropping all the way to the ground. Even with the proper harnesses and personal protection equipment, slipping off of a ledge or ladder can still be quite dangerous. As the harness system catches the workers, they could experience whip lash or even broken bones from the force.
To minimize any risk of falling, employees should always ensure their harnesses and fall prevention equipment is being used properly at all times. Minimize the amount of slack in the lines as well so that any falls that do take place will be as safe as possible.
Hazard #2 – Confined Spaces
When talking about wind turbine safety, most people don’t even consider confined spaces as being a hazard. The fact is, however, there are four specific areas that workers go where they can be confined while on the wind turbine. They are:
Tower – The vertical tower of the turbine is quite large, but it is also confined. If an employee needs to go in this area to complete a repair or perform an installation step, they can become trapped or otherwise injured.
Nacelle – This is the part of the turbine that houses the actual electrical components. Workers often have to go in to troubleshoot issues, and they can become stuck or even electrocuted. In the event of a fire, the smoke can cause major issues in this area for the workers.
Hub – The part is what attaches to the nacelle, and is also a confined area where employees can become trapped and may be in danger.
Blades – The blades attach to the hub, and workers may need to enter this area to work on the blades or keeping them tight. This is also considered a confined space.
Whether during the initial construction of the wind turbine, or when working on maintaining them, these confined spaces can be a real hazard. Even employees, however, often forget that these are confined spaces since they are working on such large machines. With this in mind, it may be a good idea to use an industrial label printer (which can be purchased here) to create warning labels that can be placed on each of these four spots.
Hazard #3 – Electrocution
Wind turbines can produce a massive amount of electricity, so it is no surprise that electrocution is a major threat to keep in mind when thinking about wind turbine safety. Employees who are working directly on the electrical equipment, for example, will need to do all they can to ensure electrical generation has stopped.
Using a custom type of the lock out tag out system is a great way to encourage safety. This is done by disengaging the turbine so that the blades can’t spin and generate the electricity. Placing a lock of some sort on the controls can help ensure they do not get turned back on while the electrical equipment is being worked on.
Remember, there is electrical equipment all throughout the wind turbine, and even near the ground so make sure all employees are well aware of this hazard.
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Another hazard related to these turbines is that a fire could start. The fire could start due to the electrical parts overloading, by the turbine getting hit by lightning, or even due to friction if the rotating blades are not properly lubricated. If an employee is working up on a turbine when a fire catches, it could be very difficult for them to escape.
OSHA has listed fires on wind turbines as a significant ‘green jobs hazard’ so it is especially important to keep this risk in mind. Whenever working on or near any wind turbine, fire safety should always be a priority. Providing the workers with a quick descent device (parachutes or an emergency drop line, for example) should be done whenever possible.
Hazard #5 – Moving Parts
Finally, the last risk to be covered here is getting hit by the moving parts of the wind turbine. While these turbines are quite massive, they also turn smaller objects within the turbine to generate the electricity. If a worker gets hit by a moving blade, gear or anything else, it can cause very serious injuries or even death.
In addition, if someone is working on the gears or other areas, their clothes or equipment could get stuck, pulling them in or throwing them off balance. Training employees to watch out for all moving parts is very important.
One way to minimize this risk is to mark of any areas where moving parts exist. Using floor marking tape (similar to this), for example, is an easy way to do this. When done right, it will alert employees to the parts that have the potential to move, even when the parts are not in motion.
While this industry is rapidly growing and work needs to be done as efficiently as possible, it is never acceptable to overlook safety. When a company focuses on wind turbine safety, they will be able to get the job done right the first time, which will end up being far more efficient in the long run.
Whether you’re building new turbines, working on old ones, or performing any other work on or around these huge windmills, make sure you do everything possible to keep everyone safe.