The Importance of
Lock Out/Tag Out
Written by Jack Rubinger
Machines inevitably break down and need to be serviced. It’s not enough to just “shut them off” and make repairs. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), machines need to have power sources removed and be locked out, tagged out (LO/TO) and isolated from the source to prevent serious injury.
Many serious accidents have happened when someone thought a machine was safely shut off. LO/TO is a way to protect yourself and others by ensuring that machines remain completely, temporarily off.
A positive attitude about safety empowers everyone in the workplace. Injuries and fatalities can be prevented and losses in production time can be minimized while profitability can be increased.
While manufacturers today are very focused on cutting costs and improving production efficiency, there’s no need to sacrifice employee safety. The consequences of not being in compliance with safety regulations are drastic – penalties, fines, damage to image, plant shutdown and fatalities. A safe operation minimizes downtime, which offers the least possible interruption in business.
To create change in workplace culture, organizations need to have a long-term vision for machine and plant safety.
That’s why it is more important now than ever to generate awareness for LO/TO and educate a broad business audience about LO/TO procedures, best safety practices and the wide range of LO/TO products and services available. LO/TO regulations and appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) protect employees who work around equipment powered by electricity.
OSHA put the federal standard, 1910.147 in place in 1989. While the purpose of LO/TO hasn’t changed, the complexity of the equipment has increased. With complex PLC linked interlocks, remote computer controls, light curtains, automatic valves and other machine automation accessories commonplace, both workers and facility managers need to be kept up to speed on current developments.
The Control of Hazardous Energy Source Standard (29 CFR 1910.147), which is more commonly known as the LO/TO Standard, is a Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) program. It was created to prevent the unexpected start-up or energizing of equipment during service and maintenance operations which could cause employee injuries and prevent the release of stored energy which could cause employee injury.
To comply with OSHA standards, companies must draft a written LO/TO plan which includes the scope and purpose of techniques to be used to control hazardous energy.
The Five Main Causes of LO/TO Injuries, according to the Oklahoma State University EHA, are:
- Failure to stop equipment
- Failure to disconnect from power source
- Failure to dissipate residual energy
- Accidental restarting of equipment
- Failure to clear work areas before restarting
Whether you are a facility manager, a foreman or a machine operator and whether you work in a chemical plant, a pharmaceutical plant, a university, a government agency or in the military, you need to know about LO/TO. Certainly, the types of machines and energy sources will vary between plant types. Copper mines use large excavating equipment powered by electricity. Offshore platforms use large gas turbines powered by natural gas. Your specific safety considerations are industry, application and site specific, but might include the following tasks and applications:
- Replacing belts on compressors, ventilation equipment, shop machines
- Disassembling pump couplings to replace/repair motors or pumps
- Maintaining electric/hydraulic recycle balers and trash compactors
- Boiler repair
- Working on vehicle engines and drive trains
- Changing saw or chipper blades
- Replacing light ballasts
- Clearing conveyor jams
So why would anyone be reluctant to follow LO/TO guidelines? These common “excuses” all relate to productivity.
- An employee is required to clear a jammed machine several times each day and locking out the machine would drop product onto the floor
- Performing LO/TO to change the tape roll inside a box machine would result in data loss to a programmable logic controller
- Programming a robot must be conducted inside the robot cell while the robot remains energized
Even those workplaces that have established LO/TO processes face challenges, including:
- Lack of specific procedures written for each piece of equipment identifying all energy sources and energy isolation devices
- Lack of comprehensive safety training for everyone in the workplace.
- Incorrect tag use
- Inappropriate lock use
- Working under someone else’s lock
- Communication. Employees need to let next shift operators know via operator worksheets that work has been finished. When uncertain, production may halt causing thousands of dollars of losses in output.
Again, consider the benefits of LO/TO:
- Minimizes exposure to injury if machines are accidentally started
- Minimizes exposure to injury in unexpected releases of hazardous energy are released, such as steam blasts, corrosive chemical and electrical arc flash
- Save lives
- Minimize exposure to litigation
- In some states, companies receive benefits and discounts on worker’s compensation if they have few accidents
- Making safety a top priority inspires employee confidence and trust