Advances in Wind Farm Health and Safety



May 11, 2017

Modern technology and its applications are having an impact on health and safety at wind farms across Canada. I’d like to highlight a few cases that were shared at the Canadian Wind Energy Association’s (CanWEA) February Operations and Maintenance Summit as an indication of the progress and innovation that is taking place within our communities. CanWEA is actively working with health and safety professionals from the industry to continue this progress and make sure we’re doing what we can to protect the well-being of everyone at or near these sophisticated power plants.

Shedding weight with high tech harnesses

During this year’s O&M Summit we had the pleasure of hearing from Team-1 Academy on some advances in personal protective equipment (PPE). It was pointed out that for wind turbine technicians the likelihood of a catastrophic accident is much lower than that of an ergonomic related injury. Most modern wind turbine towers are 80 m (over 25 stories) or taller. While many do employ service lifts or climb assist devices it would be impossible to avoid any time on a ladder. In addition, once up tower, some tasks can include moving heavy loads in small spaces so the need for proper body mechanics is critical to be able to maintain health.

As part of the solution, the developers of full-body, fall-arrest harnesses are continually looking to shave weight off their gear. Five years ago, leading equipment (including helmet and fall arrester) was around 27 lb. Today that’s down to about 19 lb. with hopes that by the end of the year it will be under 17 lb.! Removing 10 lb. from each step up the ladder is a great way to relieve some of the stress on the climb and maneuvering around all the equipment in the nacelle, hub and blades.

Keeping an eye on driving safety

Wind farm advocates don’t often take photos of just a truck on a dirt road. We like to grab shots of that majestic turbine perched on a snowy mountain top. It shouldn’t come as a surprise however, that a large portion (even the majority) of a technician’s day can be spent in a service vehicle navigating side roads and service drives. Fleet monitoring of company vehicles is not a new concept but some service providers are using this technology to keep their employees safe as they travel around the site. ENERCON has provided examples of their initiative to use tracking systems that allow the monitoring of vehicle data such as vehicle speed and engine speed as well as providing GPS locating.

While one focus of the program is to track driving behavior and notify sites of unsafe habits it is also used to notify the central monitoring system of potentially serious incidents. When a vehicle decelerates too quickly the monitoring system picks up on this and notifies the system supervisor. Personnel on the ground can be dispatched to make sure an accident has not occurred and if it has, to respond as quickly as possible. In time-critical situations this can mean the difference between life and death.

Going above and beyond with remote rescue

Many wind sites in Canada are built in remote locations to take advantage of our exceptional natural wind resources. These are the sites that we like to take those nice photos of and post on our website. But this comes along with some additional challenges when we talk about health and safety. Being prepared for the worst is the ideal but training for every possible scenario can be extremely challenging. As time passes it is critical to keep focusing on the rescue chain and the systems originally put in place when the facility was built.

On top of regular training drills where local first responders are involved, some companies choose to retain air lift services on standby in the event that a helicopter is the fastest method of extraction. This is an added expense that is not part of compliance to a regulation and may never be used but some companies choose to do this to go above and beyond for their employees.

These are just a few examples of progressive actions being taken to make wind power plants as safe as possible. Based on my experience at CanWEA I can say that in the area of safety, everyone is willing to share and work on best practices regardless of commercial competition. There is a committed core of Canadian professionals working together on safety to maintain world-class wind farms. We will continue to work together to advance new methods and the application of new technology.

Photo: Erie Shores Wind Farm/John Kirby

Phil McKay
Operations and Maintenance Program Director at the Canadian Wind Energy Association