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Safety Must Be A Commitment in Wind Energy

Day-to-day operation of a wind generation site can be a daunting experience, even for the most experienced professional. At any given time a number of tasks can simultaneously occur on site. A snap shot in time could find a crane and crew removing and replacing a damaged gearbox from a wind turbine, another crew repairing a cracked blade at a separate turbine and yet another crew performing scheduled maintenance. Successfully managing this effort can be a challenge and is critical to returning those turbines back to service as soon as possible, safely and efficiently.

Importance of Planning

How can one ensure that each team is working in concert and have a firm grasp on any potential hazards they may encounter during the performance of the assigned tasks? The answer is planning. Before any of the crews start work to on their assigned task, they need to have a plan. A plan that is a cumulative effort that involves each crewmember is critical for the success of that task. To get everyone on the same page they need to discuss the steps needed to complete the task and also to identify potential hazards. This is done during what is called a “Tailgate Meeting”, which got its name because these meetings typically take place at the work site using the tailgate of a truck as a meeting table.

The tailgate meeting is usually an informal process where each step of the task is discussed to identify potential safety concerns or hazards. This is where everyone who will work at that site for the day reviews all documents related to the task. Two documents that are always reviewed prior to each job to make sure the work is completed safely and efficiently are  “Work Instruction” and “Job Safety Analysis”.

Vital Safety Documents

The “Work Instruction” document provides step-by-step instructions to complete a specific task or gives guidance for troubleshooting a fault. This document may also include safety related information about the task. The work instruction will include information such as: torque specifications, tools needed, replacement parts and other items needed to successfully complete the task.

The “Job Safety Analysis” (JSA) is a document used to perform an analysis of the safety side of the task at hand. The analysis is of each step involved in the task and also an analysis of the work area. The JSA can help identify needed safety equipment and potential hazards the team may experience while performing the work. Information that can be included on the JSA is an assessment of the tools to be used, the type of tool lanyards that may be needed, and identification of specific safety equipment that will be needed. The JSA also is used to identify potential hazards, including slippery surfaces, confined or enclosed spaces, pinch points, exposure to rotating equipment, etc.

Radio Communication

An item that may be overlooked on the JSA is radio communication. In the opening example where multiple crews are working on different assignments it may be a good idea to get all three crews together to discuss radio frequency. If two of the crews or all three crews are using the same channel it could cause a serious problem with crane operations. The crane operator may hear someone talking on the radio and think they are giving commands to him, thus moving the load on the crane, which could cause serious harm to those nearby.

Another potential hazard with using two–way radios is that in some circumstances, when the microphone on the radio is keyed next to an open control cabinet, the control system could pick up the signal and cause a motor to start. This of course could be very dangerous if working on those systems. This problem is prone to older technology, but should be considered when reviewing the JSA.

Safety should always be on the forefront of everyone’s mind day in and day out. If safety is embedded in the “culture” of the organization, safe work practices become second nature. Organizations that embrace this “culture” are successful in safe and efficient operations. Employee teams have great morale and know that they are cared for and customers are happy because they see the results in site operations and performance of the teams. This then provides a positive view of the organization within the industry. Safety is a commitment, but a commitment that will fare well for everyone involved. 

Alden Zeitz is a member of Ecotech Institute’s national board of advisors. He is the Manager of Renewable Energy Services for Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative and offers of wealth of experience in the wind energy sector. In 2004, Mr. Zeitz was responsible for the development of curriculum, syllabi and laboratory work for the pioneering wind energy and turbine technology program at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa.

He is a member of the American Wind Energy Association, the AWEA Safety Committee, AWEA Operations & Maintenance Working Group, and the AWEA Education Working Group. He also serves as a consultant to the Iowa Wind Energy Association.