Could smart tracking systems give wind turbine elevator maintenance a lift? This might seem like a trivial question, but it’s not. Lift availability is an important health and safety topic for the wind industry. And on reflection, it’s hardly surprising.
In 2015, according to the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the average hub height for offshore wind turbines was around 90 metres, which is about as tall as the Statue of Liberty (or a bit shorter than Big Ben, for readers this side of the pond).
As you can imagine, having to climb up stairs this height is an exhausting affair, particularly within the confines of a turbine tower. That is why turbine towers come equipped with lifts.
According to a G+ Global Offshore Wind report from March 2017, “lifts are ‘usually available’; however, where unavailability occurs it can have a dramatic impact upon work packages, and its effects can be chronic both for physical health and morale.”
Clearly, if a lift isn’t working then it would be pointless and possibly dangerous to try to use it. But lifts aren’t always unavailable because of a fault. G+ says: “Another common reason for unavailability is the lift being overdue for its statutory inspection.”
With the availability of platforms such as Papertrail, specifically designed to track inspections, it seems remarkable that wind farm operators could hamper productivity and compromise health and safety because of an inspection oversight.
And let’s be clear about the risks here. Says G+: “The impact of climbing activities on health, safety and well-being is considered to be significant, and effects can be direct or indirect. Direct effects include immediate and delayed musculoskeletal strain.
“Issues have included several older technicians suffering from knee muscle strain and pain and these effects have been reported on incident/injury forms.”
It is important to stress that offshore wind technicians work in environments where every care is usually taken to ensure health and safety.
In 2016, for example, there were only nine emergency response or medical evacuation incidents in the whole of the UK offshore sector. Everyone in the industry will be hoping to keep this level as low as possible.
All we are saying is that, in this day and age, missing lift inspections shouldn’t be a factor.
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