Controlling hazardous energy sources isn’t just an important part of keeping your job site running efficiently — it’s the law. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires employers to create and implement a lockout/tagout program anywhere hazardous energies are used. Ahead, review OSHA standards for lockout/tagout protocols and make sure your company is following best practices.
Why Are Lockout/Tagout Procedures Important?
Abbreviated LOTO, lockout/tagout practices keep employees – and equipment – safe by establishing explicit guidelines around the process of deactivating machinery and equipment that could release hazardous energies during routine service and maintenance. Hazardous energies as defined by OSHA include, among others:
OSHA estimates suggest that LOTO practices prevent 120 deaths and 50,000 injuries annually. Averting workplace injuries saves your company money, too; the average recovery time for a worker injured by hazardous energy release is over three weeks long.
What Does OSHA Require for Lockout/Tagout Programs?
Companies are responsible for designing and implementing their own energy control programs. Although the phrasing “lockout/tagout” might suggest that the two procedures are interchangeable, lockout devices are preferable to tags alone. Lockout tags are mandatory for supplementing non-informational lockout devices with identifying contact information for the employee to whom they belong, as well as providing safety information. However, unless current equipment setups prevent the use of physical locking devices, information tags should not be used alone. If locks cannot be used, a separate tagout system that uses authorized devices should be implemented and stringently enforced.
If your company plans to upgrade or replace equipment, OSHA recommends that any new installations be designed with lockout compatibility in mind. Transitioning to a combined LOTO system is safer than relying on tags alone. In either case, energy control processes must be documented and enforced, and your company should review and inspect procedures at least annually.
What Are the Obstacles to Implementing Lockout/Tagout?
Even if employees who flout LOTO protocols are fortunate enough to avoid personal injury, their lack of diligence can invite OSHA violations and fines. One of the most common LOTO violations pertains to inadequate training. Be sure your safety department understands the training required for authorized employees and affected employees, who are classified differently by OSHA. Authorized employees are responsible for deactivating equipment in line with LOTO requirements, but they are often not the same employees who use the equipment. Those employees are the workers who are considered to be affected by LOTO implementation.
Training standards diverge for these groups, so your policies should clearly identify which employees are affected and which are authorized and keep adequate documentation on file to demonstrate appropriate training in each case. As with many OSHA guidelines, safety program coordinators who attend to the precise language and requirements of regulations will be able to avoid any problems.
LOTO may seem like a hassle for driven employees and managers who want to keep work on schedule. However, following LOTO regulations helps your company provide safe working conditions, keep equipment functioning and avoid costly safety citations.