Many employers have invested a lot of time, money and effort into making their workplace safety programs as effective as possible. Precautions against excessive noise, respirable contamination, fall protection and many other hazards emphasize the role workers have in performing their job tasks using required safety equipment and methods.
Our experience has shown that a number of companies also have achieved a high level of accountability with their lockout programs. But in many other cases, we have seen programs fail to prevent injuries, even when basic lockout equipment, training and equipment-specific procedures are provided.
Let's take a closer look at where some of these efforts fall short, at strong examples of companies with the best lockout programs, and where investments in lockout programs truly protect their people and bottom line.
Engagement Makes the Difference
Many companies have completed the written machine lockout procedures required by OSHA, while others still provide inadequate or outdated guidance on how to isolate energy sources during serving or repair activities. A common practice is to have printed procedures available at each machine or in centrally-located binders.
Often, they become part of the background "noise," with no sign they are being used. This indicates workers only are doing what they feel is sufficient energy isolation for machinery shut down. By contrast, the most effective programs engage workers in how they interact with the machinery.
One great example of engagement is to assign a lockout mentor – or "go-to person" – to each or several machines. The mentor acts as a teacher, advocate and watchdog for insufficient practices. The mentor also is responsible for training new operators on the written machine-specific procedures, acting as a second set of eyes during repairs and providing guidance for maintenance people or contractors who may be unfamiliar with a machine.
Mentors are one of the best ways to reinforce successful practices and correct insufficient energy control measures. And when it comes to annual auditing or inspections, the mentor program more efficiently validates that procedures are accurate and that authorized employees properly are conducting the work. This practice of "active leadership" of the lockout process is a decisive factor in turning a good lockout program into a great one.
Keep the Right Safety Equipment Close
Another common shortcoming of established lockout programs is easy access near machinery to lockout devices. Ensure employees can take confident control of machines at the point of operation or within close proximity to danger zones. Some of the functional shortcomings we have observed over the years can be addressed by efficiency principles gained from well-proven practices.
For example, lean manufacturing achieves high performance levels through the elimination of waste by removing everything else that is not needed for dependable, productive results. Nothing is more wasteful than an accident suffered by someone who knows better, but succumbed to time pressure because needed protective equipment was not immediately available.
These highly efficient companies set up production work cells or departments so that all the tools and materials necessary are immediately on hand, and the methods to properly do the work clearly are understood. Lockout practices equally must be addressed in the design and preparation of the workspace.
I frequently have seen centrally located safety equipment boards containing large amounts of lockout devices and padlocks. Too often, a majority of these equipment boards go unused; you can tell because they have original packaging still intact or dirt buildup, indicating they've hardly been used.
Another inefficiency shortcoming is mobile kits that have too many devices that may or may not be needed for a specific machine. This becomes problematic when workers need to sort through many devices to locate a few items to secure a machine.
How to Assess Your Safety Processes
To incorporate effective lockout processes into a lean manufacturing strategy, or to improve your energy isolation program in a non-lean facility, assess your machinery to determine how often lockout precautions should be applied.
First, ask your teams: How frequently do critical tasks such as set up, cleaning, unjamming or preventive service actually take place?
Then, determine what safety equipment is needed to consistently and rapidly secure energy isolation points. Are there local disconnects that can be operated or must the worker leave his area to find distant controls or remote devices that require extraordinary efforts to reach?
Finally, evaluate whether common lockout devices could be locally provided that also could be used to service identical machinery nearby. Are there unique lockout devices specifically required for certain energy sources that immediately should be available?
Follow the "15-Second Rule"
We believe that if a worker has to walk more than 15 seconds to obtain the lockout equipment needed or to reach a distant isolation point, she will think twice about taking the time to work safely. Fifteen seconds doesn't seem like much, but realize that it takes one round trip to obtain the necessary safety equipment, and then another one to put it back once the task is complete.
Placing sufficient equipment in close proximity to machinery makes a real difference by eliminating excuses to cut corners on safety. A system of making lockout devices accessible with visible and user-friendly wall-mount and cabinet-based stations or with dedicated drawer storage sends a clear message that safe work practices matter and are expected to be used. You may find that a simple re-allocation of lockout equipment already in your facility may meet your immediate needs.
To join the ranks of companies with highly effective lockout programs and admirably low accident rates, take your existing efforts and investments one step further. Let your people know who leads the safety effort at each machine in your workplace by establishing a lockout mentor program to improve your training, monitoring and auditing responsibilities. Then, set your authorized workers up for success by assessing your needs and placing the right safety equipment right where it's needed.
Todd Grover is the global senior manager for applied safety solutions at the Master Lock Co. He has more than 25 years of experience as a practicing safety professional and EHS manager. Todd is a participating member of the ANSI Z244.1 committee on Control of Hazardous Energy, as well as a delegate to the U.S. PC283 committee contributing to the upcoming ISO 45001 Global Standard for Occupational Health and Safety.