Wind turbines neither consume non-renewable energy nor produce pollution; however, there are dangerous and hazardous work environments during both construction and operation. This is a case study of a forensic investigation into the death of the wind turbine erection technician. Like all such investigations the focus is very narrow. The questions are: Was there negligence? By whom? What was the basis of the negligence?
The accident occurred during the construction phase when the original bolts, supplied by the manufacturer-general contractor, connecting two flanges in the power train were too long and needed to be replaced. The subcontractor's three-member erection crew, in the Nacelle, attempted to remedy the problem. During the process, workers used an acetylene torch: a fire started, two of the workers escaped, relatively unharmed. The third worker, the plaintiff, expired when he fell or jumped from the Nacelle.
The State of Minnesota's Occupational Safety and Health Administration reviewed the case and found two violations; 29 CFR 1926.352b and 29 CFR 1926.352d.
- 29 CFR 1926.352b: Positive means were not taken to confine the heat, sparks, slag and to protect the immovable fire hazards from them;
- 29 CFR 1926.352d: Suitable fire extinguishing equipment was not immediately available in the work area(s) where welding, cutting, or heating was being performed: procedures had not been implemented to cover "hot work" operations, including the immediate availability of fire extinguishing equipment.
The violations and fine of $25,000 was assessed to the erection subcontractor.
My investigation included, but was not limited to, the following:
Reviewed documents, including photographs; medical, fire, sheriff's reports, and interrogatories; supplied by Plaintiff's attorney.
Reviewed industry standards and codes relative to utility towers and fires including, but not limited to, Minnesota engineer and architect licensing, International Building Code, Minnesota State Building Code, Minnesota State Fire Code, OSHA and Minnesota OSHA.
Read & reviewed multiple trade industry documents relative to wind turbines including, but not limited to, design, operation, maintenance, construction, hazards, accidents, and fatalities.
Consulted with fire experts, Minnesota State Fire Marshall, Minnesota State Building Code Division, County Sheriff's & Zoning Department, Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, and Minnesota Board of Architecture, Engineering, Land Surveying, Landscape Architecture, Geoscience and Interior Design.
Seven safety issues, all relating to required regulations, impacted the safety of the workers at this wind turbine; they are:
Licensed Engineer's Certification.
Minnesota State Building Code.
Minnesota State Fire Code.
MN OSHA confined space entry.
MN OSHA fall & descent protection.
OSHA Multi-employer Policy.
A wind turbine is a structure comprised of a foundation, tower, nacelle, and blades along with the associated machinery to convert wind to electrical energy. The towers are typically a tapered steel cylinder ranging in height from 25 meters to more than 100 meters.
(Figure in full paper) Safety Issue 1: Licensed Engineer's Certification
In the course of this investigation, the only licensing or certification found on record with a loc