An employee works to clear a jam on a conveyor belt, only to have their hand crushed when the conveyor belt suddenly lurches back to life. A maintenance person working on a pipe gets a blast of steam when a nearby valve automatically vents. An electrician working on faulty wiring gets a nasty shock. These are the kinds of dangerous situations that can be avoided with appropriate lockout tagout training and procedures.
OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, estimates that compliance with lockout tagout guidelines prevents as many as 120 fatalities every year, and nearly 50,000 injuries. If lockout tagout training were done more regularly, those numbers would be even higher.
Naturally, managers want to prevent fatalities and injuries in the workplace. Reviewing lockout tagout steps regularly with your employees is a simple thing you can do that has a big impact.
What is Lockout Tagout?
Lockout tagout is usually described as “the control of hazardous energy.” While accurate, that short definition does not really convey what lockout tagout is really about.
The primary goal of lockout tagout is safety. According to OSHA:
“Lockout/tagout refers to specific practices and procedures to safeguard employees from the unexpected energization or startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities.”
Note that the term “hazardous energy” can refer to many different things here: A build-up of pressure, electric current, or even harmful gas.
Lockout tagout keeps employees safe because it helps ensure that a piece of machinery or part of a facility won’t suddenly create a hazardous situation. Some examples:
- Fully powering down a pneumatic press before a maintenance person works on it
- Stopping a jammed conveyor system while the jam is being cleared
- Shutting down the automation on a steam valve while workers are near it
- Cutting power to faulty wiring while an electrician attempts to fix it
Any workplace that has machinery or processes will need to have lockout tagout procedures in place, not only to ensure OSHA compliance, but to keep employees safe when they need to work on that equipment.
The Heart of Lockout Tagout: Energy Control Programs
OSHA guidelines require that every facility have an energy control program that outlines expectations both at the level of the facility and at the level of individual pieces of machinery. Energy control programs will naturally vary with:
- Types of machines used in the facility
- Number of employees
- Overall environment of the workplace
Once an energy control program has been created, employers are expected to make the written procedures accessible to all employees, and to train employees on those procedures.
What Needs to be Included in the Written Procedures for Lockout Tagout
These written procedures outlined in an energy control program need to include some very specific things in order to be in compliance:
- A guarantee that every piece of machinery can be isolated from any and all energy sources
- A statement that machinery will be properly locked and tagged before anyone works on it
- Preparation instructions for a proper shutdown (including adequate warning of the shutdown)
- How to properly shut down the machinery (including isolating or releasing any energy sources)
- Proper application of any and all lockout tagout devices
- Testing for lockout tagout devices
- How to properly restart the machinery (including adequate warning of the start-up and removal of lockout tagout devices)
For more information about the written procedures in an energy control program, I recommend taking a look at OSHA regulation 1910.147, which goes into much greater detail. Many manufacturers also provide appropriate lockout tagout steps for their machines; it is worth asking for these, if you do not have them already.
Lockout Tagout Training for Employees
Having the written lockout tagout steps in place is only half the battle. Employees must also be trained on those steps so that expectations are clear. Such training should also show how those guidelines are applied to specific roles and situations in the workplace. For example:
- For many employees, the idea of lockout tagout will be wholly new. They need to understand, at a basic level, what lockout tagout is and why your organization has the procedures in place that it does.
- Employees should be aware of what they are responsible for (or prohibited from doing) during shutdown and start-up procedures. Who is responsible for cutting off a circuit? Unplugging cords? Disabling connections? Venting steam or other gases? Releasing pressure? And who is responsible for securing and placing the lockout tagout devices?
- Certain aspects of the situation need to be checked once shutdown has been achieved. Does surface temperature need to be checked to ensure that no one inadvertently burns themselves on part of the equipment? Have all moving parts come to a complete stop? Do any fluids need to be drained, or at least checked? Employees need to know what to look for to ensure that it is safe to proceed with maintenance.
- A maintenance procedure can easily span two or more shifts. What is the procedure for ensuring proper lockout tagout through a shift change? How are employees coming on a new shift kept informed and aware of which pieces of equipment are being maintained, and where they are in the lockout tagout steps?
A good way to hit these points is to make lockout tagout training part of your annual compliance training. Start with a clear, concise lockout tagout training video that reviews the basics. Then familiarize your employees with the written procedures for each piece of equipment they will use. It also does not hurt to do a simulation or dry run of these procedures with your employees as part of their training.
Getting Started With Lockout Tagout Videos
Microlearning videos are a great way to break down the topic of lockout tagout into smaller, more easily consumed pieces. This way, employees can learn what they need to know and get back to work more quickly. You can check out a sample of our own lockout tagout training video, and also view some of our other training content topics at the link below. You can also view our videos by requesting a trial of our Learning Management System, Thinkzoom.