The latest wave of winter weather has been wicked from Wisconsin to Washington. The average Joe or Jane has to deal with starting the car, pushing kids to school and getting to work on time—all while trying to stay safe and warm. A challenge, but not insurmountable especially with down, fleece, tire chains, and other gear.
But tower climbing professionals and small wind energy installers really take the brunt of the wind...with trouble shooting and repair, inspection and maintenance and site assessment for homes, farms, and businesses. Installing a wind turbine in an 86 mph wind gust is no walk in the park.
Donny Davol, of Ethos Distributed Solutions, is a project engineer, trainer and safety coordinator who works across the continental U.S. and Alaska. He said, “Alaska winters are brutal; -20F, 50+ mph winds on a bad day.” He added, “When you can barely walk because it’s so windy, you shouldn’t climb. When there is a 3” diameter chunk of ice all the way up the safety climbing cable, then the tower is probably too slick to climb.”
Roger Dixon, President of Skylands Renewable Energy, LLC and a certified wind site assessor, said, “Working in cold weather and high winds isnot fun! Wind chill factors are exacerbated at wind turbine/tower top heights. We use full fleece, pull over face masks, hooded sweatshirts over hats and earmuffs, ski goggles, and layers of clothing to adjust to changing temperatures. Then we add gloves which are water resistant and/or water proof, wind breaker jackets, and hooded rain gear to go over everything.”
“Always climb with a tower buddy, especially in cold weather. Have a source of heat near the tower base if you need to descend to warm up. Morning dew can change to a slight, but slippery and dangerous coating of ice. Just like bridges, wind turbine towers (made of metal) will freeze before the ground will. Wet snow on tower climbing pegs is just as dangerous as a coating of ice. If possible, let the sun hit the tower for a half hour or so to either melt any ice/snow coating or at least warm up the metal a bit. If it looks too dangerous (ice, snow, temperature, wind, wind chill) just postpone the climb. Another day or three will not make much difference in the overall lifetime production of a wind turbine. One wrong slip can make a huge difference in the quality of your life, including ending it. Tower accidents are very unforgiving,” said Dixon.
Fortunately, personal protection equipment (PPE) and gear designed especially for this type for work is steadily improving.
Fall protection that meets OSHA standards is important for keeping workers safe. “An important consideration in cold weather is sizing with harnesses. With additional layers and clothing, harnesses can potentially go up a size in extreme cold. It’s critical that harnesses fit properly—not loose, not tight, but snug allowing for a fist to pass through torso straps and a flat hand to fit through the leg straps. Harness ease of adjustability is an important consideration in adapting to colder weather conditions,” said Eric Miller, Senior Product Manager with WernerCo.
The best defense against cold related injuries is to prioritize and limit outside work during temperature and wind chill extremes. Protect the face, head, hands, wrists, feet and ankles. Gloves with gauntlets should prevent exposed skin areas between the jacket and gloves.
“When winter climbing on the job, never break into a sweat above the tree line or you’ll freeze,” warned Tammy Stoner, Wind Power Services.
Signs and labels provide a layer of safety when working outside in the cold and wind.
In addition to required fall protection and safety harnesses, equipment must have signs and labels. Be creative, bold, and informative with signage. For example:
- Create a full-color wind chill chart. Show how hypothermia affects adults.
- Generate a three-day forecast graphic for all on-site workers.
- Where appropriate, use "Private Property" or "No Trespassing" signs in controlled areas.
To create custom, on-site safety signage, Graphic Products, the global leader in workplace labeling and signage, has introduced cold storage supply, designed for temperatures down to -65ºF. The durable supply is perfect for freezers, cold storage, outdoor inventory, and other extreme environments. With the supply, users can create bar codes, inventory labels, hazard and safety signs, and more.