Required training and equipment for working at heights on wind projects
By Scott R. Connor
Working at heights training programs for the wind power industry, fire departments, and all businesses have seen many improvements to historical rescue gear—and the welcomed invention of many new pieces of equipment—in the past 25 years.
Regulations require the employer to have a rescue plan when workers are using Fall Arrest as their form of fall protection.
Much of the rescue equipment now available has additional safeties built in, allowing it to pass "the whistle test." Should something happen to the rescuer manning the system while the victim is hanging on a lifeline, or when a whistle is hypothetically blown at any time during testing, the equipment should either lock up, or offer automatic controlled descent. The alternative would have the victim freefalling to earth in the event the rescuer becomes distracted or incapacitated.
Most regulations pertaining to working at heights will reference the standard the equipment has met. Europe has CE/EN, the United States has OSHA/ANSI, AS/NZS for Australia and New Zealand, and CSA for Canada.
The four main types and purposes of equipment for people who work at heights are Sport, Rope Access, Emergency Services, and Industrial.
Since there is no sport aspect (rock climbing/mountaineering) to industrial and construction work, it is not recommended that any sport equipment be used in this field. It often does not have the strength to handle the rigors of industrial situations, and in many cases, does not incorporate the whistle test safeties.
The equipment used in rope access is not very expensive but requires at least 40 hours of training, as well as continued training to maintain the skills to be efficient and hopefully, by default, safe. Not only can the failure rate be quite high, but even after attending training, workers still require supervision by a person with a higher level of rope access training when they go to work. It is also very physically demanding, so worker injury due to strained and pulled muscles is not uncommon.
The gear used in rope access is specific to a certain diameter of rope; therefore, compatibility becomes an issue should the user attempt to use gear intended for something else, such as emergency services.
While rope access follows a method of using the equipment that meets an equivalent level of safety for working at height, most of the gear is not CSA-approved, which may become an issue with a labor inspector or during an accident investigation.
Emergency services, such as fire departments, generally require a National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) rating on the gear they use. The equipment, for the most part, is not very expensive but requires a fair amount of initial and regular recurrent training to maintain the skillset and efficiency. Most of the rescue gear used by fire departments is not CSA-approved so again, this may become an issue with enforcement if you are a business and not a fire department.
The industrial and construction regulations in each region state the standard to which the equipment must be tested. In Canada, most provinces require that fall protection equipment meet CSA standards. This makes life easy for businesses, managers, and supervisors since the equipment they purchase will either be stamped with the CSA logo or have associated paperwork stating such.
Equipment should be specific to the amount of time allotted to training and situations that may be encountered. In the wind turbine industry, most rescue training is done every one to two years ranging from one day to a week of training. The rest of the year, workers are performing their regular jobs. Certainly, we need to make sure these people with this level of training, faced with a life or death situation, are using the simplest and safest devices. For instance, evacuation from a wind turbine nacelle hundreds of feet above the ground is a high-stress situation. A controlled descent device such as the Skylotec Milan is the best option since the user simply attaches one end to an anchor and the other to themselves. They then just evacuate with no issues of having to handle the rope on the way down since it auto descends at a controlled rate of speed.
Another example of a typical wind turbine rescue situation is that someone needs to be rescued from the ladder. Using the same type of controlled descent device with a wheel allows the rescuer to simply anchor the device above the patient, connect the end of the rope to the patient, use the wheel to lift the patient off the fall protection device they were hanging on, and simply lower the patient at a speed controlled by the rescuer.
Should the rescuer let go of the rope by accident, the patient is still safe since it has the controlled descent feature and will not allow the patient to freefall at an unsafe speed. With all these features, there is a much greater chance it will be used correctly during an actual emergency.
Scott Connor is the Chief Training Officer for TEAM-1 Academy Inc. www.team1academy.com