You don’t see or hear stored energy until it’s released. This threat often stays hidden until it’s too late, so it can pose a serious threat to employees who service or maintain equipment that could start unexpectedly or have an unexpected release of stored energy.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines hazardous energy as electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, thermal or chemical energy sources in machines and equipment. Stored energy is dangerous because even a small amount can cause serious injury.
The hidden dangers of hazardous energy underscore the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE). Using innovative hand safety solutions is one way to provide an effective last line of defense. But choosing the appropriate PPE requires recognition and understanding of the elements in hazardous energy.
When Stored Energy Becomes a Hazard
The first step in protecting yourself and your employees from the dangers of stored energy is identifying the potential sources and how those sources are stored. Understanding what stored energy is will help you create and implement the appropriate procedures to prevent incidents caused by stored energy. Some of the most likely sources of energy in many industrial facilities include:
- Chemical: Energy from the reaction of one or two substances like solid chemicals, gases, liquids and vapors.
- Mechanical: Energy from the movement of springs, wheels or elevated parts.
- Electrical: Batteries and capacitors typically store electrical energy; it is the most common source of energy that causes injuries.
- Pneumatic: Pressurized, moving gases (e.g., nitrogen, carbon dioxide), often power industrial equipment. If workers service or perform maintenance without relieving the pressure and isolating the line, the sudden release of gas could cause serious injury to personnel.
Any energy can become hazardous if stored energy builds to a dangerous level or is suddenly released. Turning the power off or removing the energy source doesn’t guarantee the equipment is safe.
Failure to control the impact of stored energy could lead to severe injury or death. Injuries could occur because of the unintentional release of energy including burns, crushing, lacerating, abrasions, fracturing, amputation, electrocution and more.
The Best Practices for Controlling Stored Energy
Hazardous energy is controlled by preventing the transmission of energy from its source to the equipment it powers, including supply lines. Facilities can keep the threat of stored energy at bay by:
- Identifying energy sources by singling out pieces of workplace equipment that need service or maintenance. Determine the type of energy that powers the machine and the stored energy that could remain after disconnecting the energy source. Place labels on them to easily identify what energy sources powers which equipment.
- De-energize equipment by isolating the equipment from the energy source to prevent the flow of power to the machine. Safe practices for de-energizing equipment include isolating electrical circuits, disconnecting equipment from energy sources and blocking machine parts that are moveable by gravity.
- Dissipate stored energy by releasing the energy after de-energizing equipment. The energy could, after all, become hazardous again. Isolate the energy from the equipment until all service work is complete.
Lockout Tagout (LO/TO) Procedures
Another effective way to keep stored energy under control is by locking out energy-isolated devices. Energy-isolated devices prevent the transmission of energy from an energy source to equipment. These devices are the primary way to protect those who service equipment. Some examples include circuit breakers, line valves and main disconnect switches.
Energy-isolated devices are only effective, however, when someone is available to restart the equipment. Locking out is a procedure that ensures an energy-isolated device stays off, closed or neutral. Once a device has been properly locked out, an employee can service the equipment safely. The lockout devices work by having a unique key or combination that keeps the equipment in a safe position. They can only be removed by the individual working on the equipment.
Similarly, tagging out helps control hazardous energy through the placement of warning tags or signs on an energy-isolating device. Since tagout devices do not offer the same physical barrier as lockout devices, they require more caution. It’s crucial for a tagout device to be durable and identifiable, with a standardized print and warning format.
Electricians, machine operators, craft workers and laborers are among the three million workers who conduct routine equipment servicing. In fact, compliance with standard lockout and tagout procedures prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries every year.
Working in a PPE Environment
There seems to be a lack of general awareness when it comes to the importance of safety equipment for utility workers. Until an incident happens, a majority of people believe they are free from the threat of electrical hazards if they keep their hands off an electrical circuit. In fact, a majority of injuries happen as a result of arc flashes, which are equipment explosions and high-velocity blasts of fragments and molten metal.
Facilities need to invest in the proper resources and products to give workers adequate protection. The right PPE is one way workplaces can help employees stay safe from potential hazards of stored energy.
For the electric power industry, PPE may include safety glasses, hard hats, face shields, safety shoes, insulating rubber gloves, insulating sleeves and flame-resistant clothing. Some facilities may take PPE further and use respirators as well as fall protection equipment.
In the world of PPE, protective gloves are the first line of defense against hand hazards. Hand protection equipment helps keep electrical workers safe from cuts, scrapes and other biological or chemical hazards. Specially designed gloves can reduce and limit damage to the hands, fingers, wrists and lower arms.
In addition to providing employees with PPE, employers need to design an electrical safety program for their facilities. The safety program should also be communicated to the workforce to ensure compliance.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that failure to control hazardous energy accounts for nearly 10 percent of serious accidents. Awareness of basic hazardous energy concepts, therefore, can help employees understand the events and the equipment that could expose them to potential dangers and how they could control those threats. By motivating people to comply with safety protocols and explaining fundamental procedures, companies can prevent workplace accidents or, at the very least, mitigate their impact on life and property.
For more ways to improve the safety of your operations, take a look at The Definitive Guide to Improving Safety Metrics.
Stay up-to-date on the latest information to keep your people safe while on the job. The monthly newsletter contains the latest in hand safety information as well as updates from the Ringers Gloves' blog.