Industrial professionals face considerable risk of exposure to electricity, excess heat and other forms of energy that can be discharged from equipment they are working on. The problem is fairly straightforward – simply flipping an off switch isn’t enough to prevent residual energy from harming a worker.
Properly locking out or tagging out a machine is necessary, and the process can require a complex combination of fully shutting off the machine, preventing electricity from reaching the asset and allowing existing energy discharge in safe ways. Furthermore, organizations must ensure that workers don’t unexpectedly use a machine while it is being prepared for maintenance, causing energy to build up again and put technicians at risk.
This is where the OSHA lockout and tagout procedures come into play, as they provide detailed instructions on why and how machines should not only be prepared for safe maintenance but also marked as locked out to ensure safety through the duration of maintenance tasks.
A foundational look at lockout/tagout best practices
OSHA warns that unexpected energy discharge of a variety of types can cause severe injury or even death for workers, making lockout/tagout procedures incredibly important. A few examples of hazardous situations include having a steam valve automatically set to the on position, putting employees working downstream at risk of burning or having an employee working on a jammed conveyor belt being crushed when the system unexpectedly starts up. Properly shutting off equipment that is being worked on and any related systems is critical, and OSHA points to its lockout/tagout fact sheet for definitive advice.
A quick look at OSHA’s primary lockout/tagout guidance
According to the OSHA lockout/tagout fact sheet, there is a great deal to consider when establishing lockout/tagout procedures, but success is critical. A few standout data points include:
- Of approximately 3 million professionals servicing equipment, 50,000 were injured each year.
- Approximately 120 casualties per year occurred during equipment servicing.
- The average number of workdays missed by employees who were exposed to hazardous energy on the job – 24.
The severity of injuries and number of fatalities shown here highlight the importance of proper lockout/tagout procedures. Even if these statistics are more than a decade old, they highlight a simple unchanging fact – energy discharge is incredibly harmful and can easily lead to severe injury or death. It is essential to follow proper lockout/tagout procedures to keep employees safe, and OSHA makes a few key recommendations for success here, including:
- Understand exactly what the OSHA lockout/tagout standard recommends for employee safety and ensure you know exactly what the employer is responsive for.
- Use energy isolation devices and de-energize assets prior to maintenance.
- Train employees to help them understand and ensure they are able to follow regulations.
- Establish an energy control program.
- Use lockout devices whenever possible and deploy tagout tools only if the tagout program provides equivalent protection to lockout.
These are just a few tips provided by OSHA, but one theme is clear, informed employees are better able to protect themselves and others. Industrial training can play a vital role in lockout/tagout success by helping employees fully understand the danger they face. Don’t take shortcuts when it comes to protecting your workers. Train to establish a true culture of safety.
For more information about energy control programs and lockout/tagout procedures, preview RedVector’s updated lockout/tagout training course.