Wind Energy Update: US Wind Farm H&S -- The Launch of OSHA’s ‘National Emphasis Program’

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A number of organizations could see an increase in the attention government pays to US wind safety, and changes in the way the sector monitors progress in accident prevention.

Wind Energy Update's Wind Health and Safety Conference The ‘falls from height’ risk exists in almost any industrial environment and, to a certain extent, safety standards designed to minimise the risks of accidents related to working in wind turbines are largely borne out of existing generic industry regulations.

Wind turbine operations and maintenance are governed, through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the US government agency charged with workplace health and safety, by regulation 29 CFR 1910.269. Originally created for power plants, this covers requirements for equipment lock-out, electrical training, equipment grounding, fall protection tie-off, and first aid and rescue.

During maintenance workers must be protected when exposed to fall hazards in excess of just 4 feet. This protection must be provided by a standard railing or, if such a railing is not feasible, by equipment such as a personal fall arrest system or a safety net.

While industry sources are not expecting major imminent changes in standards, OSHA will, from 2012, increase attention to wind safety by launching one of its ‘National Emphasis Programs’ (NEP) specifically focusing on the sector. It is hoped the closer scrutiny will enhance government-industry communication and opportunities for the industry to ‘educate’ the relevant authorities and have some influence when new standards are being drawn up.

“From a regulation standpoint, my personal view is that, for the most part, there seems to be a hands-off approach from the regulatory departments or agencies,” comments Jim Mercer, EHS specialist environmental at Mitsubishi Power Systems Americas. “Wind is still developing, so they are kind of looking at us, at a lot of different companies, for input. [As a sector,] we are in a really good position to help put together standards that don’t limit us.”

The NEP may well be the next step towards standards designed specifically for wind. Although OSHA is yet to confirm details, operators can expect increased inspections when the programme commences.

In a still nascent sector, a lot is down to ‘interpretation’ of standards. To avoid OSHA citation, operators need to examine turbine supply agreements to ensure compliance with OSHA, for example for lockout of equipment and anchorage tie-off, and at tower design to determine what should be classified a ‘confined space’ for the purposes of regulations.

Despite accident prevention measures, incidents do happen. OSHA standards require operators to have an emergency plan in place, and for fall protection and rescue equipment to be manufactured according to American National Standards Institution (ANSI) requirements. But the exact location, character and provision of a rescue service is down to individual site characteristics, and operators will have to show due consideration.

“The owner/operator has to assess the situation based on all the factors, including site accessibility, terrain, climate, and the availability of local community resources” says Grayling Vander Velde, EHS professional in the wind energy unit of Duke Energy. “As operators, we ask if we want to use the local community, or if we want to train, for example, four people to provide for the whole site, or if we want to train the whole site?”

Wind Energy Update have put together a meeting on September 8 – 9 in Dallas TX where dozens of wind safety professionals will be discussing these issues in more detail.

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Jon Harman
Wind Energy Update
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