Did you know that up until June 30, 2022, 97.1 million lightning strikes have occurred across the United States? The country hasn’t hit those levels in the past three years, and that’s just a little over a half-million strikes above normal.
Bad weather and a wind farm are a perilous combination. Particularly in Houston, Texas, according to the National Weather Service. When an electrical storm comes close to or forms near a wind farm, the occupational safety technicians’ top priority will be ensuring their workers are safe.
Employees working in a wind turbine need to be warned in time to get off the towers and find shelter. Technicians must take precautions tens of minutes ahead of time to make sure this process goes smoothly and in stages.
Lighting and tornadoes can be extremely dangerous when working on wind farms. Here, we explain the risks and what to do if you sustain an injury.
Lightning and Wind Farm Turbines
A few worldwide facts and statistics illustrate lightning risks on wind farms. These threats and wind turbine farm tornado risk are a considerable threat to these energy-generating wind farm turbines. Let’s look at one such study:
A German Study
A German study found that lightning strikes were the cause of 80% of insurance claims for wind turbines.
In fact, one commercial wind farm in the southwest encountered 85% of its downtime during the first full year of operation due to lightning. Here damage exceeded $250,000!
After being refused insurance against more lightning losses, the German electric power business Energieerzeugungswerke Helgoland GmbH shut down. It thereafter demolished its wind power plant on Helgoland Island. After three years of operation, they sustained damage from lightning, totaling more than $540,000.
Lightning Damage to Turbine Components
The turbine’s blades are not the sole thing that lightning can harm. The following systems are susceptible to harm from lightning strikes, listed from most vulnerable to least:
The Turbine Control System
System damage. Included are sensors, actuators, and wind-steering motors. Control system damage is the most common.
Wind turbines are deceptively complex, containing a transformer station, frequency converter, switchgear, and other expensive, delicate equipment. All these are susceptible to lightning damage.
Damage to Turbine Blades
When a lightning bolt strikes an unprotected blade, it significantly raises its temperature, possibly reaching 54,000° F (30,000° C) This results in a combustible expansion of the air within the blade. This expansion can result in the following:
- Structural failure
- Blade surface damage
- Melted glue
- Cracking on the trailing and leading edges of the blade.
However, much of the damage may go undetected, significantly reducing the blade’s service life. Other damages may occur through a lightning strike, such as
- generator damage
- Destruction or even detonation of batteries by a lightning strike
Consider that the risk of lightning increases with the turbine’s height. The taller it is, the more vulnerable it is to lightning strikes.
Wind Farm – Turbine Lightning Employee Risk
Due to its location and nature, the wind farm energy sector is among the most susceptible to lightning strikes. The majority of the time, workers work:
- Out in the open
- In desolate areas
- Occasionally, they are in mountainous areas
- Offshore off-coastal regions
These distinct characteristics result in significantly longer worker evacuation periods in the event of accidents than for comparable industries.
Because wind turbines are mostly higher than everything else around them, they are a great place for lightning to strike during storms.
A lightning strike can cause significant injury or death. Workers performing maintenance or repairs whilst hanging at higher altitudes can be hit by lightning directly or indirectly.
Injuries Sustained When Struck By Lightning
After a short encounter to the extremely powerful current of the lightning strike, a lightning injury develops. Did you know that 10% of people struck by lightning will pass away?
Lightning produces a massive electric force in milliseconds. Electrical current burns and ends up killing tissues in the body. These burns can cause skin and organ damage. Most of the time, the relatively brief length of exposure keeps skin damage to a minimum.
Furthermore, lightning can instantly kill a person by short-circuiting the heart. Lightning can also cause some of the following:
- Nervous system damage
- Brain damage
- Body seizures
- A loss of consciousness
Often, apart from the above, the eardrums may rupture. Also, cataracts are just one of the many eye ailments that can occur. Sometimes both legs become bluish, numb, and paralyzed.
Taking Physical Prevention Measures
Wind farm turbines are high, isolated towers made of delicate electronics, all of which contribute to the continual and genuine threat of lightning. However, a correctly constructed lightning protection system will stop the lightning and safely and effectively channel it to the ground.
A lightning protection device can be installed, and when lightning strikes, it helps save the physical integrity of the wind turbine.
As lightning-prone and advanced wind turbine systems develop, this problem is increasingly important. Lightning protection technologies significantly increase the cost-effectiveness and dependability of a wind turbine for less than 1% of the overall capital costs.
The following are additional guidelines for wind turbine lightning protection and inspection:
Every wire should include a surge suppressor before it enters the electrical panels’ box and is grounded to an existing ‘ground rod.’ There should only be one ground rod in the system, and it should be in better contact with the ground’s moisture than the tower’s footings.
Lightning rods won’t protect windmill electronics. Lightning rods may even block wind flow around the turbine’s blades, limiting efficiency.
Lightning Protection Systems
While wind turbines are highly susceptible to lightning strikes, these hazards can be reduced with the installation of lightning protection equipment.
Lightning strikes are a serious threat in the workplace, but they can be avoided with the help of local storm detection systems.
Detectors are useful for seeing electrical storms in their nascent stages because they assess the circumstances required for lightning to strike, which are phenomena related to cloud electrification. Some of these kinds of detectors can reveal the final stage of the storm when it begins to dissipate.
Preventive Measures By Employers
It is impossible to avoid storms, but it is possible to help employees detect all storm phases and their risks.
Under the OSH Act’s General Duty Clause, employers must offer a workplace free from recognized risks that cause or are likely to result in death or significant injury to employees.
For employees whose professions require them to work outdoors, supervisors and employers must adhere to best practices for lightning safety; this also applies to the wind farm energy sector.
Check Weather Forecasts Regularly
Employers and managers should verify NOAA weather forecasts. They should also check forecasts on the radio for any weather hazards before beginning any outdoor work.
OSHA suggests that companies review the postponement of jobs to prevent workers from being trapped outside in inclement weather. Workers and supervisors should constantly monitor weather conditions when they have workers working outside.
Managers should keep an eye out for the following:
- Local television weather reports
- Weather reports on the radio
- Internet weather reports and forecasts
- Any emergency notifications about thunderstorms and severe weather
Apart from the above, it is a good idea to keep an eye out for darkening storm clouds and increased wind speeds. These two elements can indicate the development of thunderstorms.
Advise Workers to Look For Shelter Inside Buildings
Companies should recognize which buildings workers should go to when they hear thunder or see lightning and inform them where to go. NOAA says to look for completely enclosed buildings with electricity and plumbing. Stay in the shelter for at least half an hour after the last thunder sound.
Give Training on Lightning Safety
All employees should receive thorough training on lightning safety from their employers. Each outdoor workplace should have its own training program.
Managers and employees should know of the location of emergency shelters and how long it will take them to get there in the event of an emergency. Again, in the event of a lightning strike, managers should be prepared to issue timely warnings so that everyone may seek shelter and take other necessary measures.
Can I Claim Compensation If I Am Struck By Lightning?
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault process, which means it makes no difference who is at fault for your injuries. You can receive compensation even if you made a mistake that directly caused your injuries.
Lightning strikes are subject to the same guiding principle as well. These occurrences are referred to as “Acts of God,” and in addition to lightning strikes, you can also have:
- The risk of floods
- Risk of Earthquakes
- Tornado risks
- Rainstorms and many more
If a company deploys workers to the field during these events and gets injured, they have a legal right to receive worker’s compensation benefits. The only concern is whether you would need to be there first. Alternatively, if you were there on the clock.
Keep Safe Under Flashing Lightning
It goes without saying that the danger lightning presents to wind farm turbines cannot be entirely eliminated. We hope we have outlined the risks and injuries should you get struck down by lightning.
Have you been a victim of a lightning strike whilst performing your duties on a wind farm? As our client, you can anticipate being well-informed and having your options thoroughly explained.
Why not get started and contact us to schedule a free consultation?