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Worker burned by arc flash; wind farm gets cited (4/19)

April 19, 2011
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A wind farm worker in Illinois suffered severe burns after a fellow worker inadvertently energized a transformer – an incident which sparked an OSHA investigation resulting in multiple violations against Outland Renewable Services.

The October 2010 accident at the Iberdrola Streator Cayuga Ridge South Wind Farm near Odell left a worker with third degree burns to his neck, chest and arms and second degree burns to his face as a result of an arc flash that occurred when a transformer was unexpectedly energized by a fellow worker. OSHA said that on the day of the incident, Outland Renewable Services failed to ensure technicians working in wind farm towers affixed their own energy isolation devices - also known as personal lock and tag devices - on the tower turbine switch gear at ground level. That created the possibility for other workers to energize transformers in the turbine towers, upon which technicians were working at a distance of approximately 350 feet above ground.

Minnesota-based Outland Renewable Services, a servicing and maintenance provider in the wind tower industry, has been issued six citations for willful safety violations, which are one committed with intentional knowing or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements, or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

"Green jobs are an important part of our economy, and sectors such as wind energy are growing rapidly,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “That growth comes with a continued responsibility for employers to ensure that the health and safety of workers is never compromised. "Outland's management was aware of the potentially hazardous conditions to which its workers could have been exposed and showed intentional disregard for employee safety by ignoring OSHA's requirements for isolating energy sources during servicing operations. Employers must not cut corners at the expense of their workers' safety."

Outland Renewable Services was issued the citations for exposing maintenance technicians to electrical hazards from the unexpected energization of transformers in three wind turbine towers, and faces proposed penalties of $378,000.

The egregious violations in this case fall under the requirements of OSHA's Severe Violators Enforcement Program. Initiated in the spring of 2010, the program is intended to focus on employers that endanger workers by committing willful, repeat or failure-to-abate violations in one or more of the following circumstances: a fatality or catastrophe; industry operations or processes that expose workers to severe occupational hazards; exposure to hazards related to the potential releases of highly hazardous chemicals; and all per-instance citation (egregious) enforcement actions.

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