Working at Height on Wind Turbines
Wind power is on the increase both here in the UK and in many other countries around the world. Some people abhor the wind turbines, claiming they are a “blot on the landscape” that spoils views. Others welcome this clean and renewable source of energy and some of us love the turbines, seeing them as a beautiful sculptural addition to our countryside. Indeed, anybody who has seen a line of these lofty structures marching magnificently across a mountain range has to admit that they are far easier on the eye than a power plant spewing smoke across our towns and cities.
Love them or hate them, wind turbines are here to stay and with them comes an increase in those who work at height in the UK. With a typical design life of 20 to 25 years, turbines consist of a tower that supports a rotor assembly in the shape of a hub and blades and the nacelle which contains the generator component. The turbines are usually between 60 and 80 metres high and operators will need to carry out regular maintenance and repair work which will include the repair and/or replacement of component parts.
Wind turbine maintenance workers who carry out preventative work and service checks are performing essential tasks that enable wind farm operators to highlight and rectify operating problems in order to extend the life of the wind turbines. With a commercial requirement to minimise downtime and maximise production, regular maintenance is essential. Many turbine manufacturers insist on an annual service on each turbine in order for the warranty to be valid.
With so many wind turbine farms sited at remote locations, this means a potential delay in the arrival of emergency services in the event of an accident. With so many potential hazards involved in maintenance work on wind turbines, this presents a problem to both operators and workers. In the event of an accident injuries are likely to be complex and difficult to treat, for example, electric shock, major trauma, suspension syncope, entrapment or crushing. Paramedics arriving at the scene may not have the necessary training to treat the injured person in the structure of the turbine.
Several areas of a wind turbine are actually confined spaces and the risks relating to working in these spaces should be assessed and appropriate precautions taken if the work cannot be avoided. Any potential confined spaces should be identified during the design stages and adequate safety equipment and health and safety measures implemented.
When it comes to making arrangements for the rescue of personnel, wind turbine operators need to include the selection of suitable rescue equipment and the relevant training for those expected to perform such rescues. Maintenance workers will need a comprehensive understanding of rope access techniques and rope access teams should be able to attach to the system in a safe place where the ropes will not pass over sharp edges. There will need to be separate anchorages for working ropes and back up ropes.