Lockout/Tagout Compliance Saves Lives

Brianne Deerwester, Contributor

Each day, nearly three million professionals participate in work activities where lockout/tagout procedures should be used. Unfortunately, too many workers put themselves unnecessarily at risk by working energized or neglecting to follow their company’s lockout/tagout procedures. These procedures safeguard workers from the unexpected energization, or startup, of machinery and equipment. They can also prevent the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities. Always de-energizing and following established lockout/tagout procedures saves lives. Compliance with OSHA’s lockout/tagout procedure prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year. In 2019, control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout) was the fourth most frequently cited OSHA standard.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) publishes fatal and nonfatal U.S. occupational electrical injury information in tabular and graphical form on esfi.org each year. The data is calculated using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) and Survey of Occupational Injuries (SOII). The data in these reports cover electrical accidents, including the total number of electrical injuries and fatalities, the industries and occupations in which they occurred, and the rates of electrical injury and fatality for selected industries. ESFI compiles the data to track electrical injury trends and to identify occupations and industries where electrical safety training can be applied to reduce the number of occupational electrical injuries.

Failure to comply with the lockout/tagout standard is listed as one of OSHA’s top 10 most frequently cited standards year after year. Workers injured on the job from exposure to hazardous energy lose an average of 24 days of work to recuperation. Looking at the 328 electrical occupation fatalities that occurred between 2011 and 2019, lockout/tagout procedure malfunction was the cause in 44 cases, or 13.4%. This was the third leading cause of electrical occupation fatalities. The first leading cause was listed as other (98 cases or 29.9%), while the second cause was misjudgment of a hazardous situation (89 cases or 27.1%). Insufficient/lack of protective work clothing/equipment (29 cases or 8.8%), malfunction in securing/warning operation (12 cases or 3.7%), safety devices removed/inoperable (10 cases or 3%), equipment inappropriate for operation (10 cases or 3%), material handing procedure inappropriate (nine cases or 2.7%), insufficient/lack/written work practice program (nine cases or 2.7%), position inappropriate for task (seven cases or 2.1%), insufficient/lack/engineering controls (seven cases or 2.1%), perception malfunction, task/environment (three cases or 0.9% of cases), and defective equipment in use (one case or 0.3%) accounted for the source of the remaining fatalities.

The following steps (https://www.esfi.org/resource/lockout-tagout-your-life-depends-on-it-544) should be implemented in your company’s lockout/tagout procedure. First, notify all employees about the required lockout. Begin by shutting down equipment using the normal stopping procedure. Locate and isolate equipment from all energy sources and release any stored energy. Next, lockout all switches and controls with assigned locks and tags. After ensuring that no personnel are exposed, operate the normal operating controls to make sure the equipment won’t operate. Return equipment to “off” state after the test and perform servicing. Then, remove the lockout device. Once work is completed, notify all employees. Working on energized equipment increases your risk of injury and death. The number one way to prevent these incidents is to de-energize the equipment you’re working on. Be proactive about de-energizing equipment and taking steps to ensure that your work environment remains safe.

Teaching workers how and why to follow proper lockout/tagout procedures can help to avoid unnecessary risk and reduce the number of workplace injuries and fatalities. A written version of lockout/tagout procedures should always been available for workers to reference when needed. A written plan is also needed for complex lockout/tagout. A qualified worker should be appointed to handle the procedure. It is imperative that they account for all workers and energy sources. Complex logout/tagout is used when there are multiple aspects involved, such as different locations, crews, or energy sources. These simple steps require extra planning but will take less time than the potential downtime and days away from work an accident could cause. The greatest value of any workplace is the people, so it is imperative to keep them safe by establishing safety procedures, including lockout/tagout, and a safety program that provides proper electrical training. For more information on how to implement safe practices on the jobsite and to share ESFI’s materials throughout your workplace, visit esfi.org.

Brianne Deerwester is the Communications Coordinator for the Electrical Safety Foundation International (www.efsi.org.com).