Officially referred to as the control of hazardous energy, lockout/tagout is a system used to ensure the safe servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment. It applies to a number of energy sources including electrical, mechanical, pneumatic, chemical, and thermal sources. When LOTO is implemented correctly, the system will work to prevent unexpected energization and the release of stored hazardous energy, both of which could cause serious injury or even death to workers.
Before someone (usually a maintenance worker) begins to work on a machine, they will need to follow the proper LOTO procedures. Processes may vary between industries and facilities, but it typically includes disconnecting the main power source, any backup power sources, and verifying that any stored energy has been released. The next step is to place a physical lock on the power source so there is no way for someone else to restore power. Lockout devices must be durable enough to withstand the conditions of the workplace and sturdy enough that it could not be easily broken or accidentally removed. These devices must also be standardized according to color, shape, or size, include a warning of potential hazards, and include instructions like “Do Not Operate” or “Do Not Open.”
While OSHA has an established lockout/tagout standard, employers have the opportunity to develop a program that fits the need of their specific workplace. Employers will need to spend time developing, implementing, and enforcing an energy control program. This includes using the appropriate lockout devices and developing an additional program if there are machines or equipment that cannot be locked out. Energy control procedures must also be developed, documented, and implemented. An important component of a compliant LOTO program is providing training for workers. Employees should know, understand, and follow hazardous energy control procedures. Energy control procedures should be inspected and reviewed periodically to determine if they’re still being followed and still effectively protecting workers.
OSHA estimates that failing to control hazardous energy is the cause for nearly 10% of serious accidents across industries. Following OSHA guidelines and taking the steps needed for developing a comprehensive program will protect workers, prevent accidents, and may even save a life.