Work Zone Safety: How to Implement a Safe and Effective Lockout Tagout

By Rick Pedley, PK Safety President and CEO

Before beginning work on your car, you’d ensure the engine was off or it’s securely on a jack. The same goes for worksites with a lot of heavy machinery that may need repairs or maintenance. Lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures can help prevent machines or equipment from energizing, starting up, or releasing hazardous energy during non-routine work like repairs. These procedures also need to be codified to ensure that the process is safe. OSHA’s rules for LOTO programs are the best way to ensure that everyone gets home safe at the end of a workday.

If your workplace is one that needs a LOTO safety program, and you haven’t yet developed one, get that done as soon as you can. Effective LOTO procedures, at their core, remove energy from equipment completely so that there’s no chance of any machinery moving or becoming active while the work is in progress. Incorporating these seven steps can ensure your process is done the right way.

Prepare for Shutdowns in Advance

Before you ever need to shut down your equipment, everyone around the machinery needs to know how LOTO procedures work. Employees at every level of your organization should have training in LOTO procedures, as well as workplace hazards, including all onsite energy sources. Education and clear communication are a big part of preventing injuries, as well as ensuring that repairs go smoothly, and downtime is minimal.

Notify Everyone

Employees whose jobs will be affected by the upcoming shutdown need to be informed. Before the shutdown happens, let everyone know when it’s happening and how long the equipment will be down. If the equipment is necessary for completing some tasks, provide reminders of alternate processes, or allocate responsibilities.

Shut Off and Isolate the Power…

Follow the procedures specific to the equipment in order to cut the power to it. You’ll find the procedures in the operating manual. Make sure that the lockdown happens in the safest possible conditions.

Include circuit breakers, valves, and other machinery that supplies energy to your lockdown process. Don’t ignore this step, and don’t count on everyone knowing the procedure automatically: repairs are non-routine work, and even an industry veteran can forget.

… and Lock the Energy Source

This is where you’ll need the padlock-like LOTO device that all authorized employees involved in a lockout will receive. This simple tool will physically keep the equipment from being re-energized. The tag on the lock will display who locked the device, when, and why.

Release or Control the Leftover Energy

Shutting down, isolating, and locking up the energy source will prevent new energy from entering the system, but that’s only half the problem. Avoiding accidents will also require that you release the energy that’s already there—things like compressed air, capacitors, and compressed springs. Anything that has tension or energy still in it could potentially release it in a dangerous way or restart the machine while work is being done.

Verify the Lockout

There shouldn’t be a way to re-energize the equipment while it’s locked down and the work on it is not complete. Even if you’ve followed every instruction perfectly, double check to ensure that your lockout was successful. The failure of a LOTO procedure can be extremely dangerous, so make sure that you’ve minimized the risk of failure as much as possible.

Maintain Lockout

Never end your lockout prematurely: equipment needs to remain in lockout, and the LOTO device must remain in place until it’s safe to fully restore service, including shift change times. Once it’s time for the lockout to end, inform affected employees once again about what you’re doing and when you’re doing it. Clear the equipment, materials, and workers from the dangerous area before you remove LOTO devices and test the equipment.

There’s a lot of potential for failure at every step in the LOTO process. Given the serious consequences that can result from failure, minimizing the risk in every way you can is the responsible—and required—thing to do as an employer. It’s better to spend time checking that LOTO procedures are done correctly rather than risk downtime, lost productivity, and serious injuries. ESW

Rick Pedley, PK Safety’s President and CEO joined the family business in 1979. PK Safety, a supplier of occupational safety and personal protective equipment and manufacturer of its own new FR line GRIT, has been operating since 1947 and takes OSHA, ANSI, PPE, and CSA work safety equipment seriously (www.pksafety.com/contact-us).

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