Minnesota work accident shows risks on wind energy farms

Working on wind turbines provide special safety challenges. A recent accident in Minnesota shows the dangers to workers.

Many people believe that green energy sources, like wind power, are the future of the energy industry. In many ways, wind energy is already here, especially in Minnesota. The state has the seventh-highest wind capacity in the U.S., with its turbines producing nearly 3,000 megawatts of energy.

Besides providing power to many Minnesotans, this industry also provides jobs for many people. Turbines need workers to build and maintain them. These jobs can be rewarding, but they can also be dangerous. Heavy equipment can fail in any construction job. The high winds at turbine farms can make conditions even riskier.

Recently, a Minnesota man was injured while working on a turbine. He was operating a crane that reaches 310 feet up. Somehow, an automatic safety feature malfunctioned and the crane tipped over. It landed on the cab, in which the man was working. He survived, but few details of the nature of his injuries were known shortly afterward.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration attempts to protect workers in the wind energy from these sorts of terrible incidents. It has several rules regulating the use of cranes and similar machinery while constructing or repairing turbines. Here are a few key regulations:

  • Cranes and their controls must be inspected by a designated competent person before they can be used.
  • The crane must rest on a firm, stable surface.
  • There must be at least 10 feet of safe working clearance from overhead electric power lines.

Besides wind, other weather conditions can increase the risk of a work site accident. Hydraulics in the crane can be affected by temperatures below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Rain, snow and fog can also reduce a crane's lifting capacity, as well as its stability on the ground. Water can seep into the brakes or clutch, making safe operations potentially impossible.

Despite OSHA's rules and employer precautions, accidents do happen to wind turbine workers. While these incidents are usually not fatal, they can cause serious harm that disables the victim, at least temporarily. In this difficult situation, workers' families may face financial hardship, as well as the task of helping the worker recover. This is what workers' compensation is intended to help with.

Many people may be unsure if their injury qualifies them for workers' compensation. An attorney with experience in this field can answer their questions, and help them through the application and appeals process, if necessary.

Keywords: workers' compensation, construction injuries, wind turbines