Safety procedures are an important aspect of any industry. Following the proper protocols in a workplace including LOTO policy is critical to ensuring the health and safety of all employees.
One of the times where workers are exposed to high risk is when servicing equipment that contains hazardous energy. If this power is not controlled in the correct manner then severe injury or death can occur when the equipment is being worked on.
OSHA mandates that employees be protected during the maintenance of energized equipment. Typically this is carried out through the use of a satisfactory lockout/tagout (LOTO) program.
This is a structured approach of notifications and lockdown before servicing of the hazardous equipment. If a LOTO policy is not implemented or enforced at a company then the penalties can be staggering.
Not only can it result in the loss of life, but the fines imposed for violating OSHA requirements can be significant. Below are some tips to execute a strong lockout/tagout policy.
Know Lockout / Tagout Roles
In any lockout/tagout program, it is essential that individuals know their role and where their responsibilities lie. Without this framework, employees may be unclear and lack the knowledge to operate safely.
There are three common roles that are found within a facility:
- An authorized person is someone with the ability to actually turn off equipment and utilize locks and tags.
- An affected person who does not have the same level of authority should nonetheless be aware of the work an authorized person is doing, such as an operator or supervisor.
- Managers are also an integral part of any program as they are responsible for monitoring adherence to policies and communicating any infractions.
Use Proper Lockout Devices
Locking out a dangerous piece of machinery is one thing, but if a robust device or system isn’t used to do so then there can still be risks present.
What if someone doesn’t know what the lock is for and calls someone to cut it for them? How about if multiple people are working on equipment and they remove the lock before others are finished?
Both locks and tags should meet certain standards to be used in a LOTO program:
Locks – They are the physical restraint that keeps equipment off so they need to be reliable and durable. Lockwraps should be used to clearly indicate why the lock is in place. In the case where multiple users are working on the equipment, a lockout hasp should be used which can accommodate multiple individual locks.
Tags – These should be used in combination with a lock and never on their own. They contain more detailed information on the work being done and who is responsible for the lockout. Tags should be visible and made of a material that won’t easily degrade or fall off.
Follow Correct Lockout / Tagout Steps
Having a consistent practice is also crucial in an effective LOTO program. These are six common steps to ensure machines are de-energized in a proper manner:
- The authorized person should notify any affected users that equipment is going to be locked out and for how long.
- The equipment to be serviced should be shut down according to normal procedures. At this point, no lockout has occurred and it is still unsafe to work on the machinery.
- Isolate the source of power and turn it off. This could be something like the main breaker or a valve.
- Now the LOTO devices can be applied. This physically prevents equipment from being turned back on until maintenance is complete.
- Any stored energy that still may be present even without power needs to be released or blocked.
- Finally, it should be verified that there is no more energy in the equipment by attempting to turn it on normally.
Train Employees in Your LOTO Policy
The information above does no good if employees are not aware of it or don’t realize the importance. Proper training is key to a knowledgeable and safe workplace.
LOTO procedures are not just reserved for maintenance personnel. All affected personnel that work in the area of hazardous equipment should be similarly trained.
Here are several ideas to keep this critical safety aspect fresh in everyone’s mind:
- Maintain documented policies and procedures.
- Require new employees to review and acknowledge them.
- Reinforce concepts to existing staff at scheduled times.
- Use posters or signage as reminders.
Working on industrial equipment powered by hazardous energy is a serious business. It’s up to everyone – from leadership to operators – to realize the significance and promote a safer workplace for all.
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