How They Work Safely—A Look at Wind Turbine Technicians
Canada’s wind energy sector grew significantly in 2021, and that trend is likely to continue well into the future. More proof of Canadians’ wiliness and ability to thrive long into the future.
One part of wind energy that deserves more attention is the safety aspect. Specifically, how wind turbine technicians stay safe while working at dizzying heights, and sometimes in extreme conditions as well. It isn’t an undemanding job, but powering homes and society has always been tough.
Explore this Article:
- What it Takes to Become a Wind Turbine Service Technician
- The Risks of Being a Wind Turbine Technician – Onshore vs. Offshore Wind Farms
- Minimizing Hazards While Working on Wind Turbines
- The Future of Safety for Wind Turbine Technicians
Even though there isn’t a specific training course that’s the gold standard for wind turbine service technicians, the industry does expect candidates to have a certain level of training. For example, a background in electrical or mechanical engineering is always preferred if not required. And many companies require specialist courses on top of a theoretical foundation.
Wind turbine technician training can be obtained through college courses, especially those that provide real-life training with actual wind turbine components. Again, electrical theory can be a great place to start before these courses. Electrical trade schools can also provide the tools necessary for the job. This is the favoured route because wind turbine technicians are working around capacitors that can hold fatal charges, so electrical know-how goes a long way.
Once a wind turbine technician has completed their technical training and found a job in the industry, that’s when the bulk of their safety training happens. Although they do receive some of this training as part of their education, on-the-job safety training is where the rubber meets the road.
Even though a series of wind turbines produce a majestic tranquil sight, they present quite a few dangers to wind turbine technicians. From working in cold conditions to dealing with noise hazards, it’s hard to predict what each new job will bring. Not to mention electrocution is omnipresent in all electrical work and technicians use lockout procedures and specialized tools to avoid massive energy arcs.
Plus, there are different risks to prepare for depending on the location of the wind turbines. For example, any kind of turbine presents a fall risk, but offshore wind farms present a few additional hazards. Here are the most common risks that technicians encounter:
For all wind turbines
- Incidents due to working in confined spaces (technicians usually work inside the wind turbines)
- Inaccessibility to medical aid
- Exposure to dust or hazardous gases (usually during the construction of wind turbines)
- Exposure to cold in certain climates or seasons
- Electrocution due to proximity to power lines
For offshore wind turbines
- Incidents while transferring from the vessel to the wind turbine
- Slips or falls due to wet conditions
- Noise exposure due to high winds
Whether it’s the height, the wind, or the risk of electric shock, there are plenty of hazards that wind turbine technicians have to watch out for. Here are some of the techniques and equipment that they use to stay safe:
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – This includes fairly standard equipment such as hearing protection and safety glasses, but also includes footwear that’s suitable for climbing, head torches, climbing helmets, safety harnesses, positioning lanyards, arrest lanyards, and lifelines.
- Appropriate clothing – Not only does a technician’s clothing need to be durable enough to last through each job, but it also needs to protect them against extreme wind, cold, or rain. Since wind turbines are obviously placed in areas that are known for being windy, it isn’t necessarily possible to wait for calmer weather before conducting repairs or maintenance. Cold or rainy weather may not be quite as common, but it’s just as inevitable. This being the case, wind turbine technicians should pay close attention to weather conditions before each job, and dress accordingly.
- Lifting/lowering equipment separately – With most wind turbines reaching at least 300 feet (up to 650 feet in some cases), scaling a wind turbine involves a tremendous amount of climbing. Standard safety protocols dictate that this is always done without carrying any equipment along, since wind turbine technicians need to be able to concentrate solely on making the trip safely themselves. Hand-held tools can be carried on lanyards, but in most cases it takes more than that to get the job done. Lifting equipment should be provided to carry tools or other equipment to and from the job site, allowing technicians to focus on themselves while climbing up and down the ladders.
- Safety training for working in confined spaces – Most of the work performed on wind turbines is done from the inside, meaning that these technicians must be trained on working in confined spaces. Not only do they have to protect against falls, but they also must monitor air quality and temperature inside the turbine and maintain communication with supervisors and other workers.
- Safety training for working in high winds – Windy conditions won’t necessarily affect a technician who’s working from inside the turbine, but sometimes it’s necessary to work from the outside. In that case, wind becomes a safety issue. To address this risk, technicians use specially designed safety harnesses, take extra care while inspecting their fall protection equipment (lanyards, lifelines, etc.), and use PPE to protect themselves against the effects of wind exposure.
- Robust communication practices – From communications about day-to-day operations to updating technicians on the locations of first-aid kits, communication is key when working on wind turbines. Informed technicians simply work more safely and efficiently, whether that involves telling them about a change in weather conditions or going over an incident response plan. When everyone is on the same page, they’re better able to work as a team and stay safe in the process.
With about 6,400 wind turbine technicians already working in Canada, it’s clear that this rapidly growing sector deserves continued development in terms of worker safety. The good news is, there are already extensive safety protocols that have become standard within the industry, and they’re sure to be improved over time. In the meantime, however, the job itself isn’t likely to become any less dangerous. That’s why every wind turbine technician, no matter their level of experience or training, knows the importance of putting safety first.