Wind energy industry and U.S. agencies team up for joint safety training

Professionals from across the wind industry were joined by government agency experts this week at a Suzlon training facility near Chicago for a battery of drills to promote safety in the fast-growing industry.

Thirty-two safety professionals from two federal agencies – the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) – were trained to climb a turbine, perform self-rescue and rescue scenarios in Elgin, Ill., at the only facility in the Americas to offer a fully-operational wind turbine dedicated exclusively to training purposes. The federal trainees included a representative from the office of OSHA’s Assistant Secretary and eight OSHA regions, as well as Labor’s Health Response Team and Department of Training and Education.

“The wind industry is gaining momentum, and added 23,000 new jobs in 2014. That underscores the importance of worker health and safety,” said American Wind Energy Association CEO Tom Kiernan. “As we continue to scale up homegrown wind energy, working closely with OSHA and the BSEE will be vital to maintaining the high safety standards we hold true as an industry.”

The training stems from an alliance between OSHA and AWEA signed in August 2011 at the U.S. Department of Labor. Through its Alliance Program, OSHA works with groups committed to worker safety and health to prevent workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses. The three-day program was developed by OSHA’s National Office; Thomas Bielema, Region V Area Director, Peoria, Ill.; and AWEA’s Michele Myers Mihelic, Director of Worker Health and Safety Policy Standards Development.

Industry professionals provided both classroom and practical training for the attendees. During the practical training, trainees were given hands-on instruction in proper climbing techniques, establishing preferred attachment points, and attachment and access from standing and suspended position. They also practiced egress simulating escape from inside a turbine tower or nacelle, and from the top of a nacelle, as well as practice escaping suspension from deployed fall arrest lanyards and assisted rescue techniques involving an incapacitated victim on the fixed ladder.

Classroom education covered basics of wind turbine generation and operation, general safety programs, electrical safety, ladders, confined spaces, prevention of dropped objects, training and workforce, hoisting and rigging, vehicle safety, hand injuries, emergency response and weather conditions.

“Everyone went through a rigorous six station course to practice all essential elements of a successful rescue operation and evacuation,” said Michele Myers Mihelic, Director of Worker Health and Safety Policy Standards Development at AWEA. “They learned how to adjust their harness from a standing and suspended position, to escape from inside a turbine tower, nacelle, and the top of a nacelle, to deploy a fall arrest lanyard and rigging, and to rescue incapacitated victims on a fixed ladder.”

Trainers from Tech Safety Lines, GE, Rope Partner, and Duke Energy assisted in the program for AWEA member company professionals from NextEra Energy Resources, Iowa Lakes Cooperative Trust, Vestas Wind Systems, Siemens USA, Pattern Energy, Mortenson Construction, BP, and RES Americas.