In many sections of the United States, you have probably seen these tall, windmill-looking structures on the landscape. They look very peaceful, gracefully creating a new type of power to help energize our country.
Wind turbines have been used in Europe for a number of years, and in the past several years have become popular in the U.S. Mechanical power from windmills is used to pump water, energy for grinding, etc.
Working opposite of a fan, which makes wind, turbines use wind to make electricity. The huge blades spin a shaft inside, which connects to a generator and makes electricity. A large group of these turbines contribute energy to the utility grid of power companies, and in turn, are distributed to homes, schools, and businesses.
- For persons who are contemplating using this type of energy, there are many things to be considered. The cost of interconnecting with the electric company, insurance in case the turbine causes damage or problems to utility systems, and liability insurance for damage to nearby properties.
- One of the hazards of the turbines are icing of blades, which could result in shedding of ice.Severe weather might cause problems.
- Blade throws are another hazard mentioned; however, these wind turbines are state-of-the-art and very safe. Equipped with sensors, blade throws are virtually non-existent. The turbines have controllers that start the turbine when the wind is 8 to 16 MPH, and stop it if the wind reaches 55 MPH, due to risk of damage.
- Lastly, studies have been done by several medical experts that in certain cases, there is a correlation between persons who have been exposed for long periods of time to low frequency noise and vibration and living too close to a wind farm, that have experienced health problems.
Because every contractor is concerned with safe operations, the wind energy industry poses unique safety concerns. The size of the propellers and remote location of the wind farms are two issues. There has been a lack of a cohesive industrial study for wind project safety; however, a process has recently begun by an ANSI A10 subcommittee made up of wind industry experts and safety professionals. As with any industry, training and planning are key elements to successful safety programs.
Issues being considered are:
- On-Site Rescue: because of their remote locations, emergency personnel are not close by or may not be equipped with tools necessary to rescue persons from high structures. Personnel of the contractor must be trained and able to reach injured workers, getting them to the ground and ready for local EMS to take over.
- Weather Planning: Because some of the farms are located where harsh conditions exist, such as high winds, dust, ice, rain, the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment must be used, and workers must be trained to recognize when weather circumstances exceed safe working conditions.
- Multiple Contractors: Several specialty contractors are involved in building wind farms, and all have to work in close proximity with each other. Each contractor should know what hazards are present in the project, and communicate this information with all other contractors. Communication is necessary to have successful safety performances.
It will be fascinating to see how many more of these wind farms will be built. It’s a great plan to help with the demand for energy that is needed to keep our country going.