Lockout tagout (LOTO) is viewed by many frontline workers as burdensome, inconvenient or production-slowing, but it is critical to any energy control program. It is also one of the most important OSHA standards. LOTO was one of federal OSHA’s top 10 most frequently cited standards following inspections of worksites.
Companies that fail to recognize and control machine hazards face regulatory fines—and risk the occurrence of serious and costly machine-related accidents. Companies and leaders must be held accountable, and they must understand the consequences of violating LOTO procedures.
Even though these procedures vary from company to company, across types of equipment and installations, there are commonalties in best practices that can be followed. Proper, easy-to-follow LOTO procedures can save lives, provide a sense of security, boost morale and help every employee get home safely.
Many companies provide LOTO training and best practices by teaching workers certain applications and configurations of equipment along with complementary documents before checks. Once workers are introduced to the environment and expected to perform LOTO, it becomes the responsibility of the workers to follow the proper steps, often with a paper checklist.
But if this process isn’t digitized, process compliance and validation of compliance can be challenging. One of the best ways to create or update LOTO procedures is through mobile connected worker solutions. If you digitize this procedure with the appropriate connected worker solution, the tailored procedure becomes a guided workflow with two-way communication that directs workers through proper steps.
Why Mobile Solutions Make a Difference
When it comes to workplace safety, time and detail matter. Effective communication is key in hazardous environments. Mobile solutions range from providing an interactive procedural checklist for the worker, which can require a real-time photo of LOTO, to an interactive work permit. Features of solutions may include in-the-moment guidance and communication, which can trigger alerts to frontline workers and escalate issues to supervisors, who can turn that data into action. Mobile connected worker solutions can help businesses meet lockout compliance and leverage data to help workers think before acting to limit serious injuries.
While Industry 4.0 has brought so much innovation to tools that generate data from machines, the tools used to measure human activity have remained effectively unchanged since 1908, according to global management consulting firm Kearney.
In a 2018 survey on connected workers, Deloitte found that at least half of all workers they spoke with were eager to adopt new technology to help them in their jobs. This is one of the reasons why mobile connected worker solutions can provide a smooth and easy path to making innovative improvements in critical areas such as LOTO.
Many mobile connected worker solutions can be applied to most industries with little friction because workers are already using smartphones and tablets daily. According to McKinsey & Company, an overwhelming 70% of businesses that have been successful with digital transformations, such as implementing connected worker technologies, have done so by leveraging mobile solutions. Even for a multigenerational workforce, mobile solutions are easy to use for operational procedures, daily checklists and processes—including LOTO.
And while technology cannot replace the value of skilled human workers, complementary technology for critical programs can assist workers. Here are four ways mobile connected worker solutions go beyond documented compliance to create a safer workplace.
1. In-the-Moment Guidance & Communication
Because of the critical role LOTO procedures play within a company to protect lives and property, these safety systems require reliability and great communication. Workers and leaders must be extremely aware of the procedures, timing and outcomes. With this comes the need for two-way communication and in-the-moment support. That’s especially important for industries where supervisors could be off-site during LOTO or where a machine could be locked out by a worker who is now off the clock. A communication gap can be problematic if not thought through and can affect the safety of workers. Therefore, the ability to connect with each other is a crucial part of LOTO planning.
Connected worker solutions guide workers through dynamic workflows representing each company’s unique processes and procedures, including LOTO, to help them communicate with everyone involved. In-the-moment data captured with mobile solutions can include direct user input and logic-based workflows. As workers progress through a guided workflow, real-time alerts of what is happening can be communicated to managers or supervisors. A mobile dashboard that presents all the data being collected can provide real-time insights, helping management and company leaders identify issues and address them in-the-moment.
2. Automated Data Collection
Data collection is critical when it comes to connecting frontline workers. Mobile solutions help companies capture data straight from frontline workers and resolve safety and operations issues faster. Data insights and communication capabilities support the right conversations at the right time to yield both cost and time savings.
Companies that empower workers with solutions can document potential issues and deliver immediate insight into problematic areas. That can also allow workers to make decisions in real-time if they are in the middle of LOTO and need help. The right tools lead to increased engagement, ultimately allowing companies to harness data to find out what’s happening, identify any gaps and act quickly on the information. Frontline workers benefit from electronic systems that increase awareness and heighten sensitivity through reminders and situational considerations in the LOTO procedure, among others.
3. Triggered Alerts and Interventions
When frontline workers and supervisors are connected with the data being captured, management stays informed, and worker concerns can trigger alerts for escalation messages. This helps companies make better decisions based on valuable data from the workforce. Instead of waiting hours, days or weeks to uncover and resolve issues, connected worker solutions leverage in-the-moment data when attention is needed—often with remote notification and viewing capabilities.
Another advantage of mobile solutions is that workers have the ability to take photos of their environment when performing LOTO. When photos are required in LOTO, they can track when/if the physical lock is being used. Also, if an issue arises, they can trigger a problem and document it with photos before and during the LOTO process. With post-date photos, when these issues arise, the data is collected and can escalate the message to leadership.
This benefits both workers and supervisors. For workers, it provides accountability, which helps encourage them to not take a wrong step or cut a corner in the process. For supervisors, these messages, triggers and escalations play a large part in management understanding what was done in the process and where they must implement further improvements. That can help prevent injuries or fatalities.
4. Actionable Data for Leaders
A connected workforce solution provides leaders with not only the tools to support compliance, but also the true data from the frontline, which can be invaluable in process improvements and incident avoidance. As opposed to data that is trapped on paper or electronic forms that are not analyzed in real-time, data that is unlocked with easy-to-use technology provides supervisors with leading indicators to support continuous improvement.
Taking leading indicators to the next level with advanced analytics that pinpoints trends and patterns is critical to identifying root causes and making proactive changes to help support and ensure process compliance and reduce potential injuries.
Combining real-time data, analytics and communication is essential for the millions of frontline workers who operates in a hazardous environment every day. Connected worker mobile solutions provide value because they are centered around actionable data, in-the-moment guidance and real-time support and communication.
The benefits provided by such solutions can help employees be more effective and efficient as well as address problems as they arise or even before they occur, which ultimately leads to a safer workplace.
Robin Fleming is the co-founder and CEO of Anvl, a software company that helps companies unlock real-time data to improve product quality, safety and productivity. Prior to starting Anvl, she worked as senior vice president of technology at Angie’s List and multiple leadership roles at Teradata Applications (formerly Aprimo).