Behind the scenes – O&M and Safety members working towards a smarter, safer workforce

January 31, 2014

Author(s): Rebecca Willard

With the AWEA Wind Project O&M and Safety Seminar recently having taken place, this segment of the industry is buzzing, both at AWEA and within the industry as a whole.


Question: What does a wind turbine look like?

Answer:  A wind turbine looks like a wind turbine and nothing else – and while parts of it may look like they were borrowed from other technologies, it is a completely unique structure that can hardly be compared to anything else. As a result, the wind industry has a completely unique set of issues that technicians and operators face every day while working on top of 500 foot towers and blades as long as football fields. The O&M and safety sectors of the wind energy industry are proving just how serious the industry is about having the most qualified workers and sophisticated best practices in place that go above and beyond what’s required to be a beacon of safety and cutting-edge technology in the world of energy.

When the industry’s top professionals come together to share their combined decades of expertise, the result is stronger industry. AWEA’s Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Working Group and Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS) Committee have recognized the need for standardization across the industry as it matures to provide the best there is to offer in operations and safety guidelines. Both groups and their respective subcommittees came together in person recently at the AWEA Wind Project O&M and Safety Seminar in San Diego and shared the latest results of their work - including the O&M recommended practices, Introduction to Safety training program, and a bevy of issue-specific white papers, guidelines and frameworks covering everything from dropped object prevention to offshore wind site safety. After months of hard work and collaboration across the industry, these materials are now available to members, with similar programs in the pipeline for the coming year (and both groups are always looking for new members interested in contributing to these efforts). 

As imperative as it is to work within the industry to share best practices among companies, it is also vital to maintain open communication lines with federal and regulatory agencies. The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently worked closely with industry experts to update the 20% Wind Energy by 2030 report, first created in 2007 as a technical analysis of how wind energy could help America meet its increasing demand for electricity. “The industry is going to have to move towards [collecting] more data, the issue is knowing how to use it,” said NREL’s Ian Baring-Gould during a concurrent session at the recent conference, stating that the updated DOE report would be a key tool. 

The conversation also continued at the seminar between the safety community and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which regulates and enforces industry’s safety standards. The co-chairs of OSHA’s wind response team, Brian Sturtecky and Thomas Bielema, attended EHS committee meetings and held a special open forum on the last day of the seminar with attendees to answer industry-specific questions.

 “Wind energy is a constantly evolving industry,” said Michele Mihelic, AWEA’s EHS director and staff lead on the safety, standards and workforce development committees. “These forums keep the lines open – this is a prime opportunity for industry and OSHA to cooperate. Industry has an opportunity to ask the really hard questions, and OSHA gets to hear what the issues in the field are and what workers are facing day to day.”

The AWEA/OSHA Alliance, a sub-group of the AWEA EHS Committee begun in 2011, has worked with the agency to develop compliance assistance tools, resources and training modules and its charter is slated to be renewed later this year. 

The wind industry is an entirely different animal from other energy industries and wind energy workers take pride in their work every day to maintain these unique structures. AWEA’s members have proven once again that we are at the forefront of advancing technology and creating the safest workplace possible.

Both of these groups welcome any AWEA members who are interested in participating in their work – please contact for more information on the AWEA O&M Working Group, or for the AWEA Safety Committee.