By: Thomas H. Welby Published: July 2017

Don't Neglect "Lockout/Tagout" Safety Precautions

“Lockout/Tagout” refers to procedures to protect employees from injury or death resulting from the unexpected startup of equipment or machinery, or an uncontrolled release of energy, during the performance of installation, maintenance, service or repair tasks.

“Lockout/tagout” requires, among other things, that a designated individual turn off and disconnect the machinery or equipment from its energy source(s) before performing service or maintenance, and that he either lock or tag the energy-isolating device(s), and verify that the energy has been effectively isolated.

In addition, if the potential exists for the release of hazardous stored energy (or the re-accumulation of stored energy to a hazardous level) appropriate protective measures must be taken.

Lockout devices hold energy-isolation devices in the “off” position.  They employ physical restraints, that cannot be removed without a key or other unlocking mechanism (or a bolt cutter) to prevent the machine or equipment to which they are affixed from becoming energized. Tagout devices, which provide less protection, and are therefore approved only where locking out is not an option, are prominent warning devices, cautioning employees not to re-energize the machine during service or maintenance operations.

While OSHA’s primary lockout/tagout standard, CFR 1910.147, is a general industry standard, not applicable to the construction industry, if your employees service or maintain machines or equipment, and the unexpected startup, energization of the machinery, or the release of stored energy might cause injury, lockout/tagout probably applies to you during set-up activities and the servicing and maintenance of equipment, whenever the unexpected startup of the equipment, or the release of stored energy, could occur.

Lockout/tagout most often comes into play in construction with respect to electrical circuits, and concrete and masonry construction.  Electrical controls to be deactivated during work on energized or deenergized equipment or circuits must be tagged.  For concrete and masonry, maintenance or repair activities must be prohibited, where the inadvertent startup of the equipment could occur and cause injury, unless and until all energy sources have been locked out and tagged.

Generally, lockout/tagout does not apply to portable hand tools, and other cord-and-plug connected machinery and equipment, where electricity is the only form of hazardous energy to which employees might be exposed, and the user can control exposure by simply disconnecting the device from the outlet.

The failure to implement and to observe lockout/tagout protocols is one of the most-cited OSHA violations in general industry, and a significant cause of injury and death in construction.  One study based on OSHA accident investigation reports from 1984-97 found that lockout procedures were not even attempted in more than half of the cases investigated.

You need to have (and train your employees concerning) a written energy control and lockout/tagout protocol.  It must include steps to shut down, isolate, block, and secure machines; designate the safe placement, removal, and transfer of lockout/tagout devices, and provide for testing, to verify the effectiveness of lockout/tagout devices, and other energy-control measures.  You should use lockout devices for equipment that can be locked out, and ensure that new or overhauled equipment is capable of being locked out.

You should employ tagout devices and procedures only where the equipment in question cannot be locked out.  Lockout/tagout devices used must be durable, standardized, and substantial.  The devices used should identify the individual users, and, generally, only the employee applying a lockout/tagout device should be permitted to remove it.

OSHA has additional energy control provisions, to be observed when machines or equipment must be tested or repositioned, when outside contractors are at work onsite, in group lockout situations, and during shift or personnel changes.

Among the measures recommended to employers by NIOSH are the following:

  • Make sure there is a written protocol in place, employee training, and inspections, before any maintenance or service work is performed.
  • Make sure all employees know when the lockout/tagout procedures apply, and are trained in how to carry them out.
  • Procedures developed should be specific to each machine.
  • Workers must have available an adequate number of lockouts and tagouts, and other hardware, as may be required.
  • Isolation devices (breaker panels, control valves, etc.) must be clearly labeled.
  • After lockout/tagout devices are removed, but before circuits are re-energized, or equipment re-started, make sure that all employees who work with them (or nearby) know that the devices have been taken off, and that that power has been restored.
  • Strictly forbid anyone under age 18 from working on machinery deemed hazardous in the Child Labor rules (29 C.F.R. 570.120).

Workers must be conscientiously trained to do all of the following:

  • Before beginning machine adjustment, maintenance or servicing, de-energize all sources of hazardous energy, by disconnecting or shutting down engines or motors, de-energizing electrical circuits, cutting off liquid or gas flow in hydraulic or pneumatic systems, and blocking machine parts against motion.
  • Lockout and tagout all forms of hazardous energy, including electrical breaker panels and control valves.
  • Block or dissipate stored energy, by discharging capacitors, releasing or blocking springs under compression or tension, and venting fluids from pressure vessels, tanks, or accumulators.  Exception:  toxic, flammable, or explosive substances must never the vented directly into the atmosphere.
  • Verify that all energy sources have been de-energized.
  • Make sure that only one key exists for each individual’s assigned locks, and that only the worker in question holds the key (master keys must be kept under supervisory control and used rarely, as when the worker assigned to the locks is absent, or unavailable).
  • Inspect repair work, before removing locks and activating the equipment.
  • Make sure that all workers are clear of danger points, before re-energizing the system.

Naturally, employee training is an indispensable part of lockout/tagout compliance, and the employer must:

  • Establish procedures to interrupt the supply of energy to machines, and to put appropriate lockout or tagout devices on the energy-isolating devices, to prevent unexpected re-energization.
  • Where applicable, address stored or potentially re-accumulated energy.
  • Train employees in the correct application, use, and removal of energy controls; and
  • Review procedures at least annually, to ensure that employees are following them, and that the procedures remain effective.

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