In a first for the wind energy industry in the USA, leading OEMs GE, Siemens Gamesa and Vestas have come together to establish a nationwide safety standard specifically for the unique challenges and special skills needed when transporting wind energy components – WITPAC. Sophie Barnes reports.

From January 1, 2023, all US pilot and escort vehicle operators (P/EVOs) and truck drivers will have to have a Wind Industry Transportation Professional Advanced Certification (WITPAC) when handling the components of wind energy manufacturers GE, Siemens Gamesa and Vestas.

The curriculum is designed to be an advanced certification for those involved in wind energy transport – covering the additional skills or information that P/EVOs or truck drivers need when hauling wind components.

Specific risks for wind turbine transport

Jeffrey Vaughan, president/executive director at Evergreen Safety Council – a non-profit organisation dedicated to workplace and roadway safety, and where the course is accessed – explained: “A pilot car operator may have prior experience piloting oversized loads of different kinds but there are specific risks that they need to be aware of and understand to handle wind components safely.”

He also highlighted what makes WITPAC unique: “Throughout my decades of experience in industrial occupational safety, it is the first time I have seen three major wind manufacturers come together and agree the standards that they require of their transporters – this is significant, it does not happen very often in industry and it is a tremendous step they have taken, one that will have a positive impact on the sector.”

So how did WITPAC come to be? Jamie France, logistics safety and quality engineer at GE Renewable Energy, Onshore Wind, recalled discussing the idea of creating a course for best practices in handling the components back in July 2020. “We wanted to move forward with the initiative and see if others would get involved,” she explained.

After reaching out to Siemens Gamesa and Vestas, it became clear that the OEMs share the commitment and dedication to safety standards, and the aim of reducing accidents on the road. France explained that “when we started this endeavour, we had 10 years of data detailing which types of incidents were most prevalent”, which could vary from injuries, damages, or deviations from safe processes. This revealed that accidents occurred most when transporting blades and towers – “the tallest, longest and most delicate pieces”, she noted.

Whether it was side-swipes, hitting stop signs or lights – occasions where no one was hurt and the damage potentially less than USD10,000 – the incidents have the potential “to throw the entire logistics system into chaos”, noted France, with time and resources having to be directed to inspecting, fixing and testing the components to ensure they are fit for the field.

“That is where we are seeing a lot of the benefit, a decrease in the very annoying, small types of damages,” said France.


Drawing upon data archives, a lack of clear communication or a breakdown of communication emerged as common reasons for accidents. Other causes stemmed from a reoccurring issue in the sector: a fragmented approach to oversize transport processes, with practices varying from one carrier to another.

That is what WITPAC addresses. “We are not trying to teach the participants how to technically do the job, but promote best practices,” said France.

The curriculum took about a year to develop; observing field operations, conducting analysis, and gaining significant input from operators to finalise the best practices and develop the course based on that set of standards.

According to Vaughan, its foundations are heavily rooted in teamwork. “We spend a big chunk of time on teamwork and communication, and then on each team member’s specific role and how it all works together to support the team objective – so for example, the specifics of a steerperson or a high pole driver, and what the rest of the team needs to know about what they are doing or the challenges they face. Everyone should have a good idea of how the rest of the team needs to interact and what they need to do. It brings them all together.”

The course has been running since last September. Upon registering for the course, the participant gains access to the training materials and five online, interactive modules. This section of the certification can be completed at the participant’s convenience and is followed by an online exam. The next phase of the certification builds further upon the online modules with a six-hour session that can be attended in-person or via Zoom.

Interactive experience

This part of WITPAC, according to France, “is where the learning really happens… it is an interactive experience with role plays, case studies, etc. It is not just an instructor preaching the material.”

Vaughan added: “The first part of the training provides the information, and the one-day course is all about ‘here is what you have learned already, now let us apply it’. That is the real magic of the class, it makes it very real, and the participants are engaged the whole time.”

“It is a day out of your life that could save a life,” said France, noting that the course draws in professionals with varying degrees of experience. “Experienced drivers could be in the class with someone who is new to the business, for example, and the back and forth in the classroom discussion is where the learning hits home.

“Even if you learn nothing, you help other people learn. For the experienced guys, it affirms that they have been doing things correctly and they are able to mentor the new people in the class or in their company. Or they can find that there is a better way.

“We have to come together as a community because we do risky things every day,” said France, “you must be at the top of your game and look out for one another”. And that is one key aspect of the course curriculum: covering how to communicate on the radio, for instance, ensuring that all the steps are understood so there is no confusion before executing a manoeuvre. Things that could be regarded as common sense but have never been standardised.

The certification expires after three years, at which point the course will have to be completed once again. Ensuring compliance will be folded into each OEM’s existing protocols. For GE, France noted that the company already has a rigorous approach to auditing who it works with – whether it is in the initial approval process prior to bidding on work, field visits or spot checks from the headquarters that look into the safety and training records.

This element was praised by Steven Todd, executive vice president of permitting at ProMiles and part of the team that developed the training. He noted that, as it is not a government-led initiative, “it is the industry policing itself. It is ground-breaking for the USA. A few states require a small, simpler pilot car certification and it is the first time that major manufacturers are saying to the carriers they hire, and the pilot and escorts they hire, that they must have this to do business.”

As of late August, more than 2,700 people completed the course – and the feedback has been encouraging. Vaughan noted that improvements are already being noticed: “We had big complaints over the years from pilot car operators that they did not feel like the driver understood what their role was or appreciate it. A lot of that had to do with a lack of communication or lack of understanding about how the team is supposed to work together. Already, there has been a shift where drivers and pilot car operators are much more open in their communication, and we are really starting to see the change in that dynamic – which is exactly what we wanted to happen.”

Management interest in wind turbine transport

Interestingly, France noted that there have been a number of professionals take the course not to gain the certification, but to broaden their knowledge; for instance, those in management positions. “I am of the belief that you can never not understand the work of the people that you lead. You need to understand what they are doing,” said France.

This feeds into an overarching theme of WITPAC: not necessarily creating a set of rules but a culture of safety and best practice. For this to take hold, all those involved in the movement of wind energy cargoes – from the top to the bottom – need to actively engage in initiatives such as WITPAC and promote a safety-first approach.

As France explained: “We have a philosophy at GE – anyone can say stop. The driver may be in charge, but anyone involved can say ‘stop, something is wrong’. There will never be repercussions for stopping for a safety check or issue. If you make a safety call, we will support you. In a perfect world, this approach would be second nature, but you have to start somewhere.”

This article has been taken from HLPFI’s September/October 2022 edition.