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Hazardous Energy Lockout Tagout

Good hazardous energy lockout/tagout practices are critical for ensuring employee safety in industrial and manufacturing workplaces. “Lockout/tagout” refers to the processes used to make sure that high-energy machines are properly turned on and off.

When these procedures aren’t followed correctly, workers can experience severe injury or even death.

Lockout/tagout failures are responsible for a substantial percentage of all industrial workplace injuries. However, most lockout/tagout problems can be prevented by following all applicable safety regulations and performing routine safety checks.

What Are the Consequences of Lockout Tagout Failure?

The consequences of failure to effectively lockout/tagout equipment can be catastrophic. The best example of this occurred at a forging facility in Houston, Texas on December 22, 1996. Eight workers were killed. A crew of 10 maintenance workers was performing work on a 40-foot high pressurized nitrogen tank for a 35-ton forging press. They believed that the pressure had been bled from the tank prior to beginning work. When 2-inch bolts were removed from a 3-foot square lid, it blew off, ripping a 40 by 50-foot hole in the factory roof. Five of the workers were blown off of the top of the tank. The OSHA proposed penalty was $1,803,500.

Another example that illustrates the need for the use of HECP and effective communication between host employers and contractors occurred at a printing company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on December 22, 2002. The contractor was severely burned by a release of steam from a line that he believed had been de-energized. He died from the burns. Both employers were cited, with the printing company paying $55,000 as the host employer and the contractor paying $3,325.

Why LOTO Mistakes Happen

How could these lockout tagout failures have been prevented? Let’s take a look at OSHA’s assessment of the two cases.

In the first LOTO case study listed above, the citation that OSHA issued had 34 lockout tagout violations listed, including:

  • Failure to provide appropriate hardware for isolating, securing, or blocking of machines or equipment from energy sources.
  • The hazardous energy control procedures (HECP) did not clearly and specifically outline the scope, purpose, authorization, rules and techniques to be used for the control of hazardous energy.
  • The employer failed to effectively train each authorized employee.
  • The employer did not conduct a periodic inspection of the energy control procedure at least annually.

The OSHA items common to both citations included:

  • Lack of a compliant energy control program.
  • Absence of a suitable hazardous energy control procedure (HECP).
  • Failure to provide appropriate hardware for isolating, securing or blocking of machines or equipment from energy sources.
  • The onsite employer and the outside employer did not inform each other of their respective lockout or tagout procedures.

Had proper hazardous energy lockout tagout precautions been followed, these disasters could easily have been avoided. Lockout tagout injuries are almost always preventable if employers follow all applicable safety regulations in the workplace and perform regular audits to maintain critical safety standards.

How Can I Prevent Lockout Tagout Failure?

Lockout/tagout failures can be prevented by understanding and properly implementing hazardous energy control procedures (HECP) and making sure that those procedures are consistently followed to prevent lockout/tagout injuries or even death. But when proper HECP training is provided for workers who need it and workplace health and safety regulations are followed, the potential for workplace injury decreases dramatically.

Here are some of the most common factors affecting lockout tagout/safety and how you can mitigate them:

Lack of Training

Every employee tasked with lockout/tagout duties requires proper training to keep themselves and others safe on the job. When companies skimp on training, there are almost always dire consequences. A lack of thorough training leaves workers ill-equipped or entirely unable to perform the basic safety functions of lockout/tagout procedures, which leaves them and their coworkers vulnerable to disasters such as those cited in the case studies above.

Businesses need to make sure that their employees are properly trained in LOTO safety. Employees should know how and when to “lock out” equipment to prevent hazardous energy issues from occurring.

Wrong Use of Tags

An integral component of HECP training is knowing how to use tags properly, as many on-site accidents are caused by improper use of these tools. Using the wrong tag could spell disaster for the next person to operate the given piece of hazardous machinery, so it’s critical that the LOTO tag usage procedures are followed with precision. The four main tags required by OSHA are:

  • Informational tags
  • Process control tags
  • “Danger” tags
  • Energy control tags

Employees with the responsibility of placing tags must be trained on how to perform this task properly in order to maintain a safe work environment.

No Equipment Procedures

Improper or unclear equipment procedures are also common problems that lead to lockout/tagout injuries. While many lockout/tagout training programs and instruction manuals provide equipment procedures that apply to most types of hazardous energy machinery, more complex systems often need more operational instruction. Unfortunately, employers sometimes fail to note the lack of proper equipment procedures in a hazardous work environment until it’s too late.

Companies need to ensure that every employee tasked with operating such equipment is versed in all applicable procedures for every piece of equipment in the vicinity.

Failure to Perform Audits

Failure to perform routine safety audits in timely intervals not only violates HECP procedures, but it can cost employees their well-being and even their lives. Performing regular audits will help companies spot equipment deficiencies, areas of training that need improvement and the overall health and safety factors of the workplace in question.

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