Wind industry accused of blowing off worker safety rule
Wind power is riding a strong breeze. In the last five years, generating capacity in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled. Clusters of tubular wind towers, rising up to 300 feet above ridgelines and gusty plains, are an increasingly familiar sight.
But in the scramble to expand clean energy and green jobs, the wind industry has fallen short on worker safety.
Thousands of the giant wind machines violate a federal requirement to give technicians who work inside the towers enough maneuvering space to get up and down their ladders safely. The standard says the space near the ladder should be free of permanent obstructions that could cause serious head or back injuries if a climber slips or is moving fast.
There are about 36,000 of the wind towers in the U.S., and more are being added all the time. Most are produced overseas to meet international codes. For reasons they won't explain, the manufacturers either ignored the U.S. standard, or thought it wouldn’t apply to them.
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.
OSHA officials say they're not aware of any serious injuries so far. Still, the violations are so widespread that they have flummoxed safety regulators, who are trying to figure out the extent of the hazard and what to do about it.
Image credit: Paul Rapatano