December 22, 2003
by Paul Gipe
On October 16, 2003 a 25-year old technician fell inside a 100-meter tall Enercon E66 tower, struck his head, and died according to an account in a local German newspaper. The man, unnamed in the Prinzitger Zeitung article, was performing warranty service on a ladder when he fell.
The accident took place near Neuruppin in Brandenburg northwest of Berlin where the local office for occupational safety is investigating.
The Prinzitger Zeitung account by Thomas Bein is sketchy but it appears that the worker was changing bolts on a ladder rung when the accident occurred. In Enercon towers, the fall-arresting system uses a rail in the middle of the ladder. The rail is attached to the rungs. The young man did not realize that when he dismantled the ladder rung he was also disengaging the fall-arresting rail.
Subsequently, he slipped and fell 30 m from platform 3 or 4 through the ladder opening to the platform below where he hit his head on the railing surrounding the ladder access. No one witnessed the accident. His coworker was elsewhere in the tower at the time.
Note: This article is based on my limited knowledge of German.
Udo Heunemann from the local office of occupational safety said that it is required to use a second or backup fall-protection system when working on or servicing the primary fall-protection system. If there had been a secondary system, the lifeline would have prevented the worker from hitting the platform.
Nigel Ellis, a fall prevention specialist, advises in Introduction to Fall Protection (2001, American Society of Safety Engineers) that fall-arresting systems using either cable or rails are for emergency use only. When workers need to rest on a ladder or to perform a task on a ladder, they must not use the fall-arresting system as a positioning tool. Instead they must use an additional lanyard to secure themselves to a fixed anchorage suitable for the task. This requirement appears similar to the German requirement.
Enercon refuses to discuss the accident.
The death in Germany and the recent death in California bring to 22 the number of men killed working with wind energy since the mid 1970s. Though women have been seriously injured in wind energy related workplace accidents, none have died. One women died when she parachuted into an Enercon turbine on the island of Fehmarn.
In addition, a visitor has died in Germany after climbing a ladder to the nacelle. However, no further information is available.
The article also quoted Heunemann, the safety officer, as saying that technicians must not be afraid of heights and in good health to work on wind turbines. The latter possibly in reference to the visitor who died of a heart attack.
Similarly, the web site (www.aksiwe.de/home.php) for the Wind Energy Work Safety Circle (Der Arbeitskreis für Sicherheit in der Windenergie) also advises that everyone climbing a tower must be in good physical condition and that site personnel must make such a determination before anyone is permitted to climb the ladder.
For more on fatal accidents in the wind industry, see www.wind-works.orgarticlesBreathLife.html.