By Jakob Lau Holst
Training centers in the wind turbine industry began reopening in May. A survey commissioned by Global Wind Organisation (GWO) anticipates that course volumes will be at 90 percent in July across the United States, with Canada at 100 percent.
In spite of the crisis, hiring in the wind industry is continuing. In fact, large manufacturers and owner operators from GWO’s membership in North America have taken on hundreds of new technicians since the turn of the year.
Given that all of these new hires, along with the existing workforce supporting North America’s 115+GW of installed capacity, require regular safety training and refresher courses, the availability of training has never been more crucial.
To meet this challenge, training center leaders are focusing efforts on new ways to minimize risk of infection to their instructors and trainees, before they enter facilities as well as in the classrooms and throughout the hands-on safety training, which is so vital for wind turbine technicians.
GWO standard training includes basic safety, basic technical, enhanced first aid, advanced rescue, blade repair, and rigger signal person courses – all critical for technicians working in various roles across the industry.
Some keys for minimizing the possibility of infections include:
Reopening requires a mindset that infection could occur throughout the training, so steps are taken to avoid that possibility by maintaining the safest possible environment. This includes monitoring trainees for 15 days before courses start to ensure they do not show symptoms of Covid-19; some centers are using a form that participants sign to confirm travel and contact history, along with a statement on what to expect upon arrival.
Trainees that need to travel to their assigned training center must follow specific instructions that can include pre-screening before departing, using airports with lowest levels of risk, or driving to the facility.
The facilities are sanitized daily, with common areas cleaned multiple times during the day. Also, sanitizing stations are present in all classrooms for trainees and instructors.
In advance of reopening, it is essential that instructors understand the roles they play in leading and demonstrating safe practices by being rigorous when it comes to basics of PPE, sanitizing, and distancing. This also is an opportunity to reinforce the messages of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for social distancing, washing hands, and monitoring health.
Trainees often have an assigned time for arrival to allow for necessary steps like registration, which is scheduled at 15-minute intervals. This can include logging in with personal information to obtain a quick response (QR) code, a forehead temperature check, and even a badge that shows the actual reading. Trainees then pick up their PPE (gloves, safety glasses, masks), which is worn from the moment they enter the reception area, throughout the hallways, and in all classrooms and common places. Therefore, a sufficient inventory of PPE is necessary to maintain operations of the center.
Distancing (at six feet or more) is practiced in classrooms and public areas, such as lunchrooms. Furthermore, trainees are asked to sit in the same location for each classroom training module.
To support distancing, class sizes are smaller than before. This comes with the added benefit of more time for instructors to direct safety training for participants. For example, one center now maintains a ratio of one instructor for three participants, versus the standard six.
During training, one interesting change is the use of mannequins for modules on first aid and working at heights. Trainees use a range of equipment for the safety modules. In working at heights, for example, trainees must be able to demonstrate the knowledge and skills to correctly inspect, service, store, and use relevant PPE; these include harnesses, lanyards, fall arresters, and work positioning equipment.
All this equipment requires special attention for sanitizing. Trainees assist in cleaning ladders before and after classes, while other equipment is sanitized, labelled with names of users, dated, and set aside for 72 hours before it can be used again.
Regarding the overall environment from a heating ventilation and air conditioning perspective, it is important to frequently change filers on HVAC systems. Another key is doing whatever possible for air interchange in the facility, to avoid a stagnant environment. Therefore, the maintenance team must be engaged in delivering a healthy environment with proactive and predictive techniques.
In a business where safety is vital, and the protection of wind turbine technicians is essential, training to safeguard them every day requires a new way of preparing for - and conducting - the training they need on the job.
Jakob Lau Holst is CEO of Global Wind Organisation, a non-profit body founded by leading wind turbine manufacturers and operators.