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Every year, we hear horror stories of machine-related injuries or deaths that could have been prevented. Using the proper lockout/tagout procedures can ensure your company doesn’t become the next author of one.
Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) was one of OSHA’s top ten cited violations for 2017. Given that it’s estimated LOTO prevents 120 deaths and over 50,000 worker injuries each year, this is a critical part of every EHS program and should be leveraged to its fullest potential.
Lockout/Tagout is an OSHA-developed standard to help companies prevent injuries from machines that are being repaired or serviced. This procedure is a series of steps that employees take to eliminate the chance of a machine unexpectedly starting up while it is being worked on.
Companies are required by OSHA to have a written LOTO program. This program includes assigning responsibilities for procedures, spelling out each step for employees to take to lock down equipment or machines, and procedures required for testing machines before they are taken out of LOTO status.
In addition, companies are tasked with using OSHA-approved equipment in their LOTO program and must fully train employees on how to conduct LOTO correctly and safely.
One of the biggest failures of lockout/tagout procedures is the failure to isolate all energy sources prior to beginning work on a machine. These sources include, but are not limited to:
Without isolating all potential energy sources, workers can – and often do – experience injuries or death. That’s why following each step of a LOTO program is critical to your success. Let’s look at the individual steps in more detail.
Before initiating the procedure, plan it out: What needs to happen? Who is responsible for each part of the process? What are the potential hazards? What energy do you need to control in order for LOTO to be effective?
After you have a plan, you’ll need to power down the machines for LOTO to occur. It’s a good idea to let all employees know that LOTO is about to take place, even if they aren’t a direct part of the repair or maintenance. This can help create a heightened level of safety awareness.
Once the machine has been powered down, you should isolate the machine’s power source(s). Turning off a power breaker, unplugging it from an outlet, closing a valve – whatever you need to do to ensure no power is running to any part of the machine.
Once the machine is “dead”, you should perform the actual lockout and tagout. This step requires OSHA-approved devices that show a piece of equipment is disabled and being worked on. Employees will know not to turn power back on to the machine, try to use the machine, or otherwise tamper with the repair or maintenance site.
The lockout/tagout devices are applied to each energy source in a way that they stay in a “safe” mode and cannot be moved to an unsafe mode by anyone other than the person performing the lockout tagout. These devices typically have the name of the person performing the tasks and other information. This is the arguably the most crucial step in LOTO because it prevents tampering from occurring. Even when all prior steps have been completed, accidents can still happen if proper LOTO techniques have not been applied.
Even after stopping the machine’s power, a machine may have stored energy that could be hazardous. Check for residual energy and relieve the machine of it prior to beginning work.
Go back and double check all your steps to ensure you’ve completed each one properly. An authorized employee should verify the completion of lockout/tagout and give the green light to begin work.
LOTO safety training is required by OSHA, but even if it weren’t, it’s hard to argue with the benefits of this step-by-step process. When implemented and enforced, your team could be among the 120 annual deaths and 50,000 injuries prevented by proper LOTO.
Featured resource: What You Need to Know About Safe Work Permits
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