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Going Mobile: Improving Inspections and Lockout/Tagout

Going Mobile: Improving Inspections and Lockout/Tagout

In today's need-it-now world, having instant access to information seems to have become a mandate. But how does it figure in to lockout/tagout?

Thanks to safety compliance management software, vital workplace safety information immediately is accessible on mobile devices. Safety compliance software helps provide consistent and timely identification of hazardous conditions, collects and stores related information and allows for resolution of critical issues to improve the management of risk to protect the workforce and employers – all from the palm of your hand.

Safety compliance software allows you to work in two key areas specific to safety and health: the performance of inspections and the application of lockout/tagout and alternative methods to control hazardous energy. You can use the software to access processes and procedures that guide workers to establish safe working conditions while maintaining, servicing or locking out machinery.

I'd like to discuss methodology here rather than the details of software. The hope is that a compelling argument will be made to investigate what safety compliance software and mobile technology can do to enhance your safety and health program.

Planned Inspections and Spontaneous Observations

Following the time worn but proven concept of plan, do, check, act (the ANSI Z10 Safety Management Standard), we must establish the proper working conditions, implement correct procedures, evaluate actual outcomes and continuously improve practices. This requires a plan that can be measured through physical observations and validation of acceptable findings, and assignment of responsibilities to achieve the desired outcomes of your safety and health program.

Traditionally, inspections have been a paper chase with the first task being to define what will be observed and documenting it on hard copy forms. Then comes the job of manually recording observations with notes and photos, developing lengthy reports and distributing corrective actions. All of it is a time-consuming responsibility of safety professionals and others assigned to the inspection work. This takes valuable time away from leading-edge opportunities to address program improvements or tackle new challenges.

We have found that mobile technology using safety compliance software, such as smartphones and tablets, quickly can be populated with existing inspection content, enhanced with expanded recording capabilities and put on to the work floor to rapidly capture conditions, auto-document photos attached to observations, assign corrective actions appropriately via e-mail and generate the final report by simply by pressing the print button.

I recommend starting with the high-value, high-frequency inspections that really could benefit from a trend analysis that safety compliance software can provide through data capture. An example could be a chemical process where daily checks of pressures, temperatures and operating conditions routinely are gathered, yet often are not compiled into meaningful outputs that can be used to pinpoint performance issues because of time limitations.

Often, the best people to perform these inspections are very talented when it comes to the equipment they inspect and operate, but they are not necessarily as motivated as report writers to capture their findings in meaningful documentation. Using safety compliance software installed on mobile technology, they capture the data as they observe it, use drop-down menus to note the routine findings, type in important notes as needed and link key photographs. When their observations are done, their findings are ready to deliver. Trend analysis then can be performed from the compiled data collected from multiple inspections.

Other examples of high-value, high-frequency inspections include safety critical equipment, such as cranes, hoists and rigging, food safety and HACCP; quality-related functions in technical industries; over-the-road vehicle checks; and safety and hygiene observations to support compliance requirements.

Your imagination is the limit when it comes to this mobile inspection technology because it rests in the palm of your hand. Anyone empowered to record observations immediately can pull up an inspection format on his or her phone and generate findings, photos and corrective action assignments in moments. Corrective actions are logged and ready to be addressed with no delays to process paperwork. Because of this rapid turnaround and trend analysis that attacks patterns of non-compliance, the number of critical findings actually is driven down as a result of the robust and timely inspection processes in place.

Lockout: Access to Information and Accountability

There are two main challenges to the full implementation of a hazardous energy control program to protect personnel from the unexpected startup of machinery that safety compliance software on mobile devices can overcome.

The first is access to information and equipment. Using their smartphone or tablet, authorized workers either can pull up the needed lockout procedure required by using a simple search function with a machine I.D. number, or quickly scan a barcode or QR code on the control panel to bring up the exact procedure for the machinery. We also have the ability to scan a list of procedures provided on a machine control panel to bring up the main lockout procedure or any number of sub-procedures for sectional lockout or alternative procedures, which directly solves this information access problem.  

Rather than searching through binders of information or paging through torn or dirty written procedures hanging from machinery, electronic procedures provide direct and immediate access. This especially is true in harsh working environments that prohibit placing laminated hard copy LOTO procedures in extreme conditions of weather, temperatures, chemical exposures or where metal-detectable materials are required.  

In addition to providing accessibility to information, electronic lockout procedures easily can be authored on mobile devices using safety compliance software and can help provide a new level of accountability for workers responsible for protecting themselves during their tasks. Once a procedure is accessed on a mobile device, the lockout software walks them through each step – in the correct order – and has them acknowledge the energy source successfully has been isolated and secured with the appropriate lockout devices, padlocks and tags.

The verification of testing the controls for zero energy is a required final step of the procedure to ensure this critical function is performed before contact with the point of operation or associated danger zones. Each step is time-and-date stamped with the name of the authorized worker applying the lockout. The resulting records demonstrate lockout activity by personnel, the LOTO activity log on a per machine basis, time of lockout on a per machine basis and a real-time notification of lockout activity going on in the facility for administrators and managers via their desktop PC LOTO dashboard functions.

What safety compliance software on mobile technology offers in the arena of lockout addresses the two main challenges: information is fully accessible, and personnel know their safety-related activities are documented, motivating them to protect themselves on a task-by-task basis.

This accountability generates proof of compliant participation in the lockout program and serves as evidence of failure to participate in the event of an incident. This heightened sense of access and accountability has a very positive impact on the risk management of potentially hazardous service, repair and maintenance work for employees, as well as contractors, who use mobile technology to participate in an information-driven safety program.

Working smarter is a competitive requirement in this time of rapidly advancing technology. If used properly, safety compliance management software can have a positive impact on your safety and health program. The utilization of mobile devices with safety compliance software not only offers immediate access to your safety-related information, but it can enhance the quality of your safety data and efficiency of your overall safety and health program, too.

Todd Grover is the global senior manager for applied safety solutions at the Master Lock Co. He has over 30 years of experience as a practicing safety professional and EHS manager. Grover 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 & Safety.

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