Safer wind work: A Q&A with Tech Safety Lines’ Reggie Ham
Safety is paramount at any job site and, particularly, at a wind site where workers are typically dozens of feet above the ground. Reggie Ham, Technical Operations Manager with Tech Safety Lines (TSL), recently shared his insight on fall-protection and safety with Windpower Engineering & Development.
Ham was a wind technician for eight years prior to joining TSL in 2016. The company offers workers at height proprietary training and patented safety equipment that ensures a safe working environment.
“A wind technician can wear his or her harness, use a ladder system, and tie off to designated anchors just fine, but what good is that if something comes up at the O&M building, which requires proper use of a portable ladder?” shares Ham. “Short falls from lesser heights are a more common occurrence than falls from the greater heights of a wind-turbine tower.”
He adds: “It is not a matter of what should be known, but what is required to be known.”
With the aim of sharing a few of those “required” safety tips and industry knowledge, here’s the Q&A with Ham…
Q. What are the key regulations for fall protection at wind sites?
A. There are two relevant OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — which aims to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women in the U.S.) standards under CFR 29 that are relevant to the wind industry.
The first is General Industry’s 1910 Subpart D: Walking-Working Surfaces. The second is Construction’s 1926 Subpart M: Fall Protection. The American Society of Safety Professionals’ standards for fall protection and fall-restraint are under ANSI/ASSP Z359 Fall Protection Code.
Q. What type of training do you recommend wind techs go through prior to working at height?
A. Much of the training a new technician goes through is based off requirements, especially for safety equipment. I would recommend all types of training and particularly hands-on training. There are programs and courses that can teach vital information in electrical troubleshooting, hydraulics, and pneumatics. Such courses can break down the physics and concepts of how wind turbines work, which is all extremely beneficial to wind techs.
The only concern is that this fails to always translate into habits that carry over into the real workplace, regarding safety and mechanical aptitude — which is why hands-on training is critical.
Q. Can you please share tips for or recommendations on choosing a safety harness and how it should be fitted?
A. The purpose of a full-body harness is to distribute fall-arrest forces over a broad area, from the thighs up to the shoulders. ANSI Class 3 harnesses are designed and tested to meet impact force requirements and are required for work in the wind industry.
However, there are several styles of full-body harnesses to choose from. To help narrow down the options, the first priority to address is the scope of work being performed. For example, is the worker performing suspended work? If so, he or she might consider harnesses made for prolonged periods of suspension. There are harnesses made of materials to meet requirements for hot work, or arc flash.
If the harness solely intended for safety while a tech climbs from the bottom of a wind tower to the top, then a more basic style may be selected. Multiple d-rings are always a plus. Most turbines have a ladder safety system that requires a chest ring connection. Side d-rings allow for use of work positioners. Some harnesses also offer equipment loops for connection of tethered tools or tool bags.
After addressing the type of work to be done, the user can then consider more personalized features. It helps to research user reviews. There are several resources online to ask fellow peers about their experiences with harnesses. Some people have purchased harnesses based on aesthetics, only to later discover it creates hot spots, or areas or discomfort. Incorrect fitting can also lead to these hot spots.
It is important to choose a harness that can be tightened or secured to fit but still allows movement. An uncomfortable or oversized harness can lead to an improper, insecure fit, which may cause serious problems in the event of a fall.
For the best fitting, always refer to the manufacturers’ instructions.
Q. Aside from the risk of falls, what other safety hazards should workers be aware of when climbing a turbine tower or working on a nacelle?
A. There are falling object hazards, electrical hazards, fire hazards, hydraulics, pneumatics, pinch points, rotating equipment, and many more sources or energy that most of the time can be mitigated with a Lockout Tagout program (which ensures that potentially hazardous machines are properly shutoff and unable to be started up again prior to the completion of maintenance or repair work). Other hazards are extreme temperatures, vertigo resulting from the swaying of a tower, and other potential underlying medical issues.
From experience, I would say complacency is one of the greatest hazards. Many workers get in a groove of performing the same type of work, day after day. They could also be pressed for time because of short deadlines or turbine availability. In such cases, attention to detail may slip, and the respect for the surrounding hazards will begin to dwindle. This is when many accidents occur.
The thing about being that high off the ground is if an injury or sudden illness occurs, you now have to get a potentially incapacitated person down. This is why an extensive rescue plan is just as critical as a fall-protection program. Personal protective equipment (PPE) helps protect workers, but then what? A fall-arrest lanyard and harness may have just kept a worker from falling, but what if there is no equipment or trained individuals to rescue the suspended casualty?
Fortunately, there has been an increased awareness across the industry regarding the importance of a thorough rescue plan.
Q. As a general rule, how often should safety equipment be replaced? For example, is there an expiration date on fall-protection harnesses, tethers, or other safety gear?
A. Most soft goods — such as ropes, webbing, other textiles — used in PPE and rescue equipment do have a service life. Referring to the manufacturer is the best course of action for ensuring such equipment remains reliable and is up-to-date. There are inspection criteria that do require equipment to be removed from service, including various modes of damage, exposure, etc.
Q. Do you have any tips for storing and maintaining fall-protection gear to ensure maximum use?
A. Ensuring PPE remains clean can remove dirt, sweat, chemicals, or oil that may have accumulated over time. So it’s worth performing the occasional, gentle hand-washing with a mild detergent on PPE. Just be sure to the gear let air-dry before stowing. Equipment should also be stored out of direct sunlight and away from moisture.
However, as with all safety equipment, it is best to refer to the manufacturer for its recommendations.
Q. Are there any common myths about fall protection or working at height?
A. Rather than myths, I would say there are common mistakes. Many times, people will overestimate their physical abilities. Techs may think they are fast or strong enough to prevent themselves or an object from falling. Workers may also assume that they will be able to use their strength to lift themselves or someone else after a fall.
Going through a climbing and rescue training can humble them pretty quickly.
For information about TSL’s training programs, click here.