Good instruction is the best form of prevention

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Germany is radically overhauling its energy policy. The national government's plans are for at least 35% of the country's energy to be generated from solar, biomass and other sustainable energy sources by 2020. These sources currently account for 17% of the energy supply. In recent years, wind power has become an increasingly important part of the energy mix. What OSH issues must be considered during the erection of wind-power installations? Wolfgang Pechoc of the BG ETEM answers questions on the subject.

Erection and maintenance of a wind-power installation require work to be performed high above the ground. What safety measures should workers take?

Pechoc_ It is important that each worker be issued with personal protective equipment (PPE). Regardless of whether they use a ladder or an open elevator to reach the top of the installation, workers must be protected against falling. The various systems recommended for particular situations can be found in the corresponding informative publication, BGI 657, produced in 2006 by the German Social Accident Insurance.

Besides the hazards described there, what other sources of hazards must be considered at workplaces on wind-power installations?

Pechoc_ Three key sources of hazard can be identified: mechanical and electrical hazards, and hazardous substances. Examples of the first group are unguarded machine parts, sharp edges and freight elevators. A number of measures can be taken for protection, ranging from mechanical guarding to the provision of instruction to workers. For details, please refer again to BGI 657.

Electrical safety is of course of key importance for wind power installations. The installations are defined as locked electrical operating areas; all work must therefore be performed under the control and supervision of a skilled electrician or person who has received electrical instruction. In order to rule out the risk of electric shock, all switchgear installations must exhibit at least partial or ideally full shock-hazard protection.

The third category of hazards is that of hazardous substances. Epoxy resin for example is used for the repair of the rotor blades. Cleaning agents are also routinely used. An occupational physician must be consulted in these cases. Personal protective equipment must also be worn.

Have any accident blackspots or foci emerged?

Pechoc_ A total of 1,200 accidents and near-accidents occurring during the years 2007 to 2009 were evaluated during the revision of BGI 657. The evaluation showed a large proportion of the accidents to be the result of mechanical hazards; crushing and sprains were for example more frequent occurrences. Incorrect behaviour by individuals was the cause in the majority of cases. During erection of an installation, the workers are frequently under time pressure and may have very long working days; mental pressure is also a factor. This means for us that the most important form of accident prevention in this area is good and continual instruction of the workers.

Let's now consider a form of power generation that is to be substantially extended in the future: that of offshore wind parks. One German wind park is already in operation in the North Sea; a further 63 are planned. This means: working in open water, in some cases under extremely adverse weather conditions.

Pechoc_ Firstly, offshore work is subject to the full range of safety provisions applicable to wind-power installations on land. From an OSH perspective, certain other aspects must be considered in addition. How can the transfer from the vessel to the installation be made as safe as possible?How are the risks of the sea crossing addressed? What arrangements are made for nights spent at sea? At present, a four-day training course exists that is intended to prepare offshore workers for emergencies at sea. The relevant situations and rescue measures are practised during the course. As part of the licensing procedure for offshore wind parks, for which the German Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency is responsible, a safety and protection concept must be drawn up.

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