Working at heights, heavy lifts, dropped objects: these are just some of the health and safety (H&S) challenges the wind industry faces every day. In North America, Siemens has adopted resilience engineering and behaviour-based training techniques that – in a very short time, indeed – have transformed the security of its front-line technicians.

“We do whatever it takes to make sure anyone – employees, contractors, anyone that walks on our site – is as safe as possible,” states JP Conkwright, director of quality and environmental protection, health management and safety (EHS), Wind Service Americas, Siemens. “We use H&S legislation as a minimum standard that we strive to go well above and beyond.”

Resilience engineering

Conkwright’s door is always open to new ideas. That can mean working with the industry to formulate and adopt specific guidelines like the Global Wind Organisation’s (GWO) basic safety training standard. Siemens’ participation in the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) recently-concluded alliance with the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration is another good example, helping to build best-practice solutions to prevent workplace accidents.

“Over the past few years, we have incorporated some really leading-edge thinking on safety,” says Conkwright. “We have used research on resilience engineering to build a programme for our service group in the Americas region. Through that, we have cut our injury rate significantly.”

The figures are startling. In the last fiscal year, the injury rate at Siemens Wind Service Americas was down 54%. The latest lost-time figures show that the rate dropped by a staggering 81% over the past 11 months alone.

The figures are startling. In the last fiscal year, the injury rate at Siemens Wind Service Americas was down 54%.

The concept of resilience engineering is simple enough; it focuses on a system’s ability to return to normal following a disturbance. Danish psychology Professor Erik Hollnagel

has been instrumental in developing it, taking theories derived from natural ecosystems by the likes of CS Holling in the early 1970s and examining their application elsewhere.

Resilience has long been used in psychology, defined as “the capacity to withstand traumatic situations and the ability to use a trauma as the start of something new”. Picked up by the business community over a decade ago, it is now employed to describe the ability to dynamically reinvent business models and strategies in response to change.

Hollnagel’s 2006 title Resilience Engineering points out the central role of business systems and culture, noting: “things that go wrong happen in (more or less) the same way as things that go right”. He later defines resilient performance as “not just [being] able to recover from threats and stresses, but rather to perform as needed under a variety of conditions – and to respond appropriately to both disturbances and opportunities.”

In practice, Hollnagel characterises resilient businesses as ones that anticipate critical disruptions, notice when they happen and then put a prepared plan into action.

A resilient business might notice that a manager is approaching their ‘yield point’ and takes action to reduce their workload, perhaps through extra resources or by diverting work to other team members. After action execution, the results are reviewed and learning applied to improve the plan for next time.

Safety is an investment. We’ve seen time and time again that if we put effort and money into safety, it pays off.

“We have taken the study of what makes businesses resilient in the marketplace and tried to take that down to the human level,” says Conkwright.

Best practice

Hollnagel’s most recent work, Safety-I and Safety-II: The Past and Future of Safety Management, takes his resilience engineering approach fully into the world of health and safety. He points out that conventional safety programmes are reactive, based on responding to what goes wrong or to identified risks. His insight is to move from “avoiding that something goes wrong” to “ensuring that everything goes right”.

“Siemens Energy has had a number of engagements with Professor Hollnagel, and I’ve met with him twice myself,” says Conkwright. “He’s great to work with and very enthusiastic about seeing his ideas taken out and used in the real world.”

Conkwright himself has worked in human performance and resilience engineering at Siemens and elsewhere for over seven years. In his previous Siemens post, he helped build and implement resilient processes in applications like gas turbine repair by field technicians.

“Hollnagel says there are four pillars of resilience: anticipate, monitor, respond and learn,” explains Conkwright. “Building off the concept of leading indicators [measures preceding or predicting a future event], we have created what we call ‘leading actions’ in each one of those areas. We measure our people on those actions.”

First comes anticipation. What could go wrong and what are the sorts of signs or symptoms to which staff and supervisors should be alert?

“In our resilience engineering plan for the year, our anticipation steps would be things like our pre-task plans and our readiness reviews,” says Conkwright. “Our monitoring step is where our behaviour-based programme comes in on the front line with the technicians.”

The idea behind Siemens’ focus observation behaviour-based training (BBT) programme is to reinforce and monitor in the field the processes previously taught in class, and to look out for warning signs of impending problems. The monitoring system not only lets supervisors check on technicians’ behaviour but also helps technicians directly monitor themselves and their own working environment.

“We looked at best practice in other parts of Siemens, then took those programmes and made them wind specific,” relates Conkwright. “Our guys fill out their pre-task plans in the morning, then if they stop at any time, they make observations before starting work again. That helps them pick out anything that’s going on that they may not have seen before.”

However, monitoring scattered pairs of field technicians 80m up in the nacelle of a turbine is a lot harder than walking around a factory floor. Likewise, using a paper-based system on a wind farm is out of the question.

Instead, Siemens took a digital approach when it introduced its BBT programme in October 2014, adapting a recently-built BBT app used by the gas and steam turbine business into a wind-specific version. Built on the Survey Monkey cloud platform, this now underpins the wind programme.

“We’d already invested heavily in making sure all our technicians use an iPad as an integral part of their work,” says Conkwright. “We wanted something that was web-based, really open and easy to access so that our contract employees and other partners could be part of the programme.”

The Survey Monkey app uses simple questionnaire forms that can be applied to take technicians through pre-task planning, rapid risk assessments or ad hoc observations. When site supervisors want to check directly on field activity, they simply call the technicians and work with them through the iPad-enabled observation process.

“We need them to have tools that they take along and use as part of their daily work routine,” says Conkwright. “Just like they grab a 6mm wrench, I want them to have safety tools at their disposal.”

To find out exactly what’s going on in the fleet, supervisors check a web report built using the Tableau reporting application. If these reports show a possible trend towards unsafe behaviour, Siemens can then deploy targeted observations to focus on that area.

Separate feedback loops ensure that vital warnings and learning aren’t ignored or restricted to one site.

A daily safety email pipes focus observation information to all involved, with recipients able to link through immediately to more detailed data on the website.

Summarised information along with guidance from supervisors feeds into the safety topic calendar used to inform morning safety meetings. Other regular safety conference calls and area meetings get the message out, not just to the US but also to operations from Brazil to Hawaii.

“We run anticipate, monitor, respond and learn as a process,” says Conkwright. “If we anticipate situation X, we have a plan ready for that; then we monitor to see if the plan is working. If it’s not working then we build a response. Through that whole process, we are learning to feed back to the next anticipation and make it better.”

Streamlined safety

There were 8,000 surveys run in the first year and more than 18,000 in the second. Conkwright’s team initially trained every technician to use the focused response app, and there is now a full day dedicated to it and resilience engineering within the basic training programme.

With technicians and their supervisors deeply involved, the next step is to bring in middle management and other support workers. With management systems and culture driving safe (or unsafe) practices all the way down to the front line, the goal is to start building resilience engineering and BBT into every operations process.

“If the people who write turbine component maintenance processes for the fleet understand this, then they can build in some monitoring steps to make it a resilient process,” notes Conkwright. “They might say, ‘this is a critical step in maintaining component X, so you can stop and ask for a peer check from the person you’re working with to make sure you get it right before you move on’. That might involve independent verification of measurements or checking a sling before lifting.”

Siemens is extending the programme to more turbine customers, too. That means customer technicians, site supervisors and even senior management take the Siemens training and then become part of the monitoring and feedback infrastructure. That requires extra resources, but, this way, everyone involved with a Siemens turbine works consistently within the same safety system.

“Safety is an investment,” concludes Conkwright. “We’ve seen time and time again that if we put effort and money into safety, it pays off.”