While the turbines are a growing clean energy alternative that are slowly starting to power more and more of Pennsylvania there is a problem. As FairWarning.org reports in a recent article "in the scramble to expand clean energy and green jobs, the wind industry has fallen short on worker safety." As it turns out, thousands of these giant wind turbines federally mandated OSHA requirements to protect technicians.
Inside the towers upon which sit the turbines are ladders. These ladders permit workers to inspect and repair the wind turbines as problems arise. OSHA regulations, however, require the space near the ladder to be free of permanent obstructions. The reason being that such obstructions in a tight space can cause serious head or back injuries if a climber slips or is moving fast from one part of the two to another. "For reasons they won’t explain, the manufacturers either ignored the U.S. standard, or thought it wouldn’t apply to them."
As reported by FairWarning, The companies “evidently didn’t look into U.S. codes and standards, especially safety standards, in doing their designs,” said Patrick Bell, a senior safety engineer with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal-OSHA, and a member of a federal OSHA wind energy task force.
The OSHA standard in question dates back to the 70s, and concerns the use of fixed ladders at work sites generally. While the standard does not speak to wind towers specifically, it certainly applies to the ladders within. OSHA regulations require a clearance of 30 inches from the ladder so workers can safely move up and down. If there are permanent obstructions within the climbing space, they must be shielded so workers can squeeze past without getting hurt.
Fortunately, no serious injuries have been reported to date. This, however, seems to be a luck event rather than testament to the safety of the turbines. Unless wind turbine manufacturers begin modifying the design of their products to conform with OSHA regulations and alter the current turbines already in the field, it is likely only a matter of time until an inspector does sustain a serious injury.
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