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What is Lockout Tagout?

December 23, 2020

Lockout Tagout Definition 

Lockout Tagout is a safety procedure for ensuring maintenance technicians completely shut down hazardous equipment while completing repair work. The process involves using special lockout devices that prevent pieces of equipment from energizing during servicing. Lockout Tagout also entails turning off energy sources—electricity, natural gas, steam, pressurized water, compressed air—for enhanced safety and posting warning tags to discourage uninvolved workers from touching the equipment. 

Overview: What Does Lockout Tagout Mean for Facilities?

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires all facilities operating potentially dangerous machinery to perform Lockout Tagout. The practice keeps technicians safe by requiring temporarily disabling equipment energy sources. It also prevents the turning on of assets in hazardous working conditions. 

Maintenance novices are often surprised to learn that turning a machine off isn’t always enough to keep workers safe. For example, compressed air and electricity are potentially hazardous while connected to machinery in both its on and off states. 

According to OSHA, Lockout Tagout procedures help prevent an estimated 50,000 injuries and 120 fatalities in the United States each year. However, the particular safety procedure is among the most violated OSHA standards.

Maintenance technicians should practice Lockout Tagout when installing, repairing, cleaning, lubricating, and unjamming equipment. Notably, many facilities do not apply the procedure to the routine servicing of equipment essential to everyday production. Additionally, oil and gas, maritime, construction, and agriculture industries rely on alternative safety methods rather than on Lockout Tagout. 

Types of Hazardous Energy Prevented by Lockout Tagout

Most people are aware of the dangers of electrical energy. Most organizations, therefore, have adequate Lockout Tagout procedures to prevent the accidental release of electrical power. Other types of equally dangerous energy include:

  • Mechanical Energy: Mechanical energy is usually created through the motion of a moving object, such as robotic arms, moveable saw blades, and crushing parts. When an employee accidentally bumps into a moveable part, it can become a danger if it picks up enough momentum. 
  • Hydraulic Energy: Manufacturing facilities that rely on heavy machinery have a lot of hydraulic energy. Technicians can release pressurized hydraulic oil that is harmful while servicing equipment. Lockout Tagout procedures for hydraulic power require maintenance personnel to release such pressure before starting their work. 
  • Pneumatic Energy: This is similar to hydraulic energy but is formed with pressurized air instead of fluids. Pieces of equipment with pneumatic power should also have the pressure released before maintenance starts.
  • Chemical Energy: Facilities that handle chemicals must have safety procedures to prevent their accidental release into the air. One such approach is locking out diesel generators, which can release dangerous nitrogen and sulfur oxides, often used as backup power sources.
  • Thermal Energy: Heat sources such as natural gas, coal, nuclear, diesel, oil, and biomass release thermal energy. These elements are common in the mining and power generation industries. 

What Are the 6 Steps of Lockout Tagout?

Lockout Tagout procedures differ from organization to organization. However, these are the general steps to follow regardless of industry:

  1. Prepare for Lockout Tagout: A designated employee investigates and fully understands the types of hazardous energies the facility should control. It’s also essential to identify specific hazards.
  1. Initiate Shutdown: To begin repair work, the technician powers off and locks out the machine. At this time, management informs employees affected by the shutdown of its estimated duration. 
  1. Energy Isolation: After shutting down the machine, the technician isolates its source of energy. This action can involve shutting off a valve or turning off a power breaker, for example. 
  1. Lockout/Tagout: An authorized employee attaches the lockout and tagout devices to the machinery. In most cases, the tagout device indicates the person’s name granted permission to interact with the asset. 
  1. Check for Stored Energy: Assigned technicians double-check to ensure there is no residual energy inside the equipment. Any power found is safely disconnected, released, or restrained.
  1. Isolation Verification: A technician verifies the equipment is isolated and de-energized to ensure that maintenance can begin. 

Only authorized employees who initiate lockout tagout procedures should remove the devices post-maintenance. At this point, employees are notified the machine is now operable. Pieces of equipment that cannot be locked—because they’re heavily involved in daily production—are tagged with warnings to ensure employees follow safety precautions when interacting with them. 

Details to Include:

As previously mentioned, different organizations may have various Lockout Tagout programs depending on their specific needs and the number of systems that require lockout. Developing a well-structured program can streamline maintenance activities and protect employees. 

Details Lockout Tagout programs should clearly define include:

  • Types of hazardous energy associated with assets
  • Procedures for isolating and de-energizing assets
  • Types of energy-isolating or de-energizing devices needed
  • Maintenance personnel authorized to conduct procedures
  • Tools needed for procedural steps
  • Procedures for removing the lockout devices and restarting the equipment
  • Training for maintenance personnel authorized to lockout assets
  • Procedures for how to verify isolation is complete

As they grow and acquire more assets, facilities should continually review, modify, and improve safety procedure programs. 

Conclusion

Lockout Tagout procedures help protect workers from hazardous energy sources. Not only is failing to comply with the OSHA standard a safety risk, but it’s also a financial one. Organizations that fail to follow appropriate safety procedures can face stiff penalties. 

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