Most U.S. companies either have no lockout/tagout (LOTO) program or an inefficient, generic one that leaves employees without the guidance or training they need to perform safe lockout/tagout procedures.
The goal of a good LOTO programs is to shut down machines and keep employees from using them until repair or maintenance work is complete. These programs protect employees from accidents, injuries and even death during repair or maintenance of production machinery.
Despite LOTO standards and regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), lockout/tagout-related accidents continue to happen in various industries throughout the United States. And unfortunately, injuries that result from improper LOTO procedures range from a mild shock to loss of limbs and fatalities.
If you run a company that deals with production equipment, or if you work on equipment that regulates stored energy, your LOTO program should address six important concerns that result in the most incidents
1. Lack of training
Most employers do an adequate job of training employees who are assigned to apply locks and tags and those who operate the machines needing locks and tags during repair and maintenance. Many companies, however, fail to provide lockout/tagout awareness training for the other employees who work around, but not on, those machines.
Imagine a new supervisor passes by a machine that is supposed to be running continuously during his shift. He checks it, finds nothing wrong, misses the lockout tag and pushes the start button. Without knowing that this piece of equipment was supposed to be “locked out,” his action to start the equipment could cause damage to the equipment or injury to one of his employees working on the machine. LOTO training ensures these type of incidents don’t occur.
2. Wrong use of tags
It is imperative to use lockout tags appropriately. Otherwise, you degrade the purpose of the tag and confuse everybody in the workplace about your lockout/tagout protocols.
In compliance with OSHA standards, you need at least four different tags for your LOTO program:
- Danger: Do Not Use or Danger: Do Not Operate for defective tools and equipment
- Energy control tags (which display the energy source icon, lockout and verification procedures and safety hazards) for service and maintenance of equipment
- Process control tags for indicating the status of the service
- Informational tags for other necessary lockout/tagout details
Remember to train employees to place the tags in such a way that others will notice them quickly.
3. Lack of equipment-specific lockout procedures
Generic lockout/tagout programs cover all the pieces of equipment in a workplace. Specialized equipment or integrated systems often require more elaborate lockout procedures, however. These units and systems are often energized using multiple sources, which makes it crucial to identify all those sources and to shut all of them down before doing any repair or maintenance work.
For a more efficient LOTO program, your company should have specific procedures for each piece of equipment. Identify the energy sources of each machine, write the necessary steps to shut down these sources and specify the steps needed to verify the lockout.
4. Failure to drain residuals
Shutting down a machine or cutting off the power supply does not necessarily mean the unit is safe to handle. You also need to have protocols on draining residuals, such as energy stored in batteries or capacitors, excess pressure buildup within a system and toxic liquids, gases or other residual substances trapped in pipes. Remember, exposure to these residual hazards can be fatal.
Make sure to write a different set of lockout/tagout procedures for handling residues; this job may necessitate the use of specialized devices or personal protective equipment.
5. Use of duplicate keys or shared locks
Some employers require only the lead technician to apply a lock and tag for all servicing jobs. Other companies may let their staff use duplicate keys or shared locks, arguing that this practice make technicians more efficient because teams do not have to wait for leaders to apply a lock and tag for them.
Here’s the problem with duplicate keys and shared locks: Anyone in the team can unlock the equipment without fully verifying whether the machine or area has been cleared for operations. This practice puts the technician, as well as other workers in the area, at risk of dangerous consequences.
As a best practice, each employee servicing a machine should be required to use his or her own set of lockout devices with a single key for accountability and traceability purposes. If you’re the one working on the equipment, you want to be sure it stays locked out until you’re done.
6. Failure to perform lockout procedure audits
OSHA’s standards require an annual audit of each lockout/tagout procedure. It is also mandatory to review the audit findings to make sureall energy sources were identified. Unfortunately, not all companies adhere to these standards, and too many managers and safety professionals assume that their LOTO policies work adequately.
If you want to ensure your LOTO program is effective, make sure you perform regular audits. This way, you get to update or streamline your procedures and ensure lockout/tagout safety at your workplace.
In most cases, it is overconfidence, experience and familiarity with the equipment or procedures that influence workers to overlook lockout/tagout basics. It’s easy to be complacent, especially if your organization doesn’t have any history of LOTO-related accidents.
Lockout incidents often take the operator by surprise. The technician may have performed a certain routine maintenance task for over a hundred times but a minor change in circumstances (that could otherwise have been prevented with protocols) could easily lead to an accident.
Preventing workplace accidents has always been a joint responsibility of the employer and the employees. With a stringent LOTO program combined with robust implementation, you can keep employees from skipping crucial steps and unintentionally putting themselves in harms way. Helping your employees work safe is an ongoing process to prevent incidents and improve your Organizational Safety Metrics.
While LOTO procedures are the best way to prevent injuries resulting from the release of stored energy, an employee’s last line of defense is his or her PPE. We believe in a zero incident workplace, and we also believe that luck favors the prepared. Having the best PPE on the market offers that level of preparedness. For more information about the best hand protection on the market, contact Ringers Gloves today.