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Ehstoday 9318 Lockout Tagout

Why Isn’t Lockout/Tagout Taken More Seriously?

June 9, 2020
Numerous OSHA violations for control of hazardous energy reveals increasing need for lockout/tagout procedures.

Despite preventing an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year, lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures account for one of the most-cited OSHA violations each year. In 2019, the LOTO Standard 29 CFR 1910.147 “Control of Hazardous Energy” placed fourth in OSHA’s Top 10 list of most-cited violations with 2,975 total violations; higher than the previous year. This standard outlines minimum performance requirements for the control of hazardous energy during servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment.

Employers cited under this standard failed to establish an energy control procedure either partially or altogether, while others were cited for failing to provide adequate employee training, failing to conduct periodic evaluations of procedures, and failing to use LOTO devices or equipment. Violations were common among plastics manufacturers, machine shops and sawmills. Penalties for 2019 citations can cost as much as $13,260 per violation, and failure to act can lead to additional fines up to $13,260 per violation per day past the deadline to fix the issue.

At the National Safety Council 2019 Congress & Expo, Patrick Kapust, deputy director of OSHA’s Directorate of Enforcement Programs, reported, “These are common violations that we’re finding—they’ve been in place for a lot of years. The answers are out there, and employers shouldn’t feel like these are very complex issues. If you don’t know the answers, we encourage you to contact OSHA.”

Since 2014, OSHA has issued employers more than 10,000 LOTO citations. In addition to the penalties paid for safety violations, preventable workplace incidents involving the release of stored energy cost companies millions in lost productivity, medical expenses and insurance costs. With the available resources today, these completely preventable accidents and their associated costs should be on the downturn as opposed to 2019 seeing an increase in violations over the previous years. Employers are consistently failing upwards to comply with minimum performance requirements and it’s becoming more apparent that we’re far past the time for them to adopt safety-by-design solutions.

1910.147(c)(4) Energy Control Procedure (878 violations) 

Procedures shall be developed, documented and utilized for the control of potentially hazardous energy when employees are engaged in the activities covered by this section.

What makes compliance with the “minimum performance requirements for the control of hazardous energy” fall under the umbrella of common violations? To understand this, we need to start by defining the “LOTO” acronym. “lockout” procedures refer to written steps that are taken to bring the machine to a zero energy state. Once a de-energized condition is established, locks are placed on energy isolation devices that enable personnel to maintain control over the hazardous energy.

“Tagout” devices are only allowed as sole means for control of hazardous energy on machines/equipment that was made prior to January 2, 1990, where the equipment is not designed with provision to lock, although they do not provide any sort of control or protection other than warning personnel of the imminent hazard. They are meant to show that the equipment is in a de-energized state and someone is most likely performing maintenance on it.

When combined together, the procedure “lockout/tagout” refers to lockout devices and identification tags being used in conjunction to indicate that a qualified person is safely performing an energy isolated task. When employees follow the LOTO procedures enforced by the companies they work for, they are able to better protect themselves from unexpected re-energization or release of stored energy.

Striving for the minimum requirements of compliance does not lead to achieving minimum risk or maximum productivity. Furthermore, human error plays a vital role in failing to comply with standards. Despite thorough training, documentation and experience, there will always exist that risky margin of a person just simply making a mistake, no matter how many times they’ve performed the task at hand. Today, this risk can be nearly eliminated; however, in order to reach that goal, companies need to look beyond compliance.

1910.147(c)(7) Training & Communication (572 violations) 

The employer shall provide training to ensure that the purpose and function of the energy control program are understood by employees and that the knowledge and skills required for the safe application, usage and removal of the energy controls are acquired by employees.

When it comes to OSHA and LOTO, the code recognizes two categories of people that need training: Authorized & Affected Employees. Under the training mandated to companies by OSHA, “Each authorized employee shall receive training in the recognition of applicable hazardous energy sources, the type and magnitude of the energy available in the workplace, and the methods and means necessary for energy isolation and control. Each affected employee shall be instructed in the purpose and use of the energy control procedure.”

“Authorized employees” are those who are applying the locks and “affected employees” are those in the area during a lockout. The latter can range anywhere from operators to third-party contractors. If they are within the vicinity of the procedure, they are affected.

As evidenced by the record high LOTO violations of 2019, companies need to do more in 2020 to improve and ensure worker safety and really ask themselves if they’re investing in safety just to satisfy a compliance and avoid fines, or if they are investing in preventing injuries and saving lives.

1910.147(c)(6) Periodic Inspection (500 violations) 

The employer shall conduct a periodic inspection of the energy control procedure at least annually to ensure that the procedure and the requirements of this standard are being followed.

Right alongside training and communication lies the follow-up protocol of periodic inspections. You’ve outlined and defined your procedure, trained and retrained your employees and equipped them with what they need to get the job done safely and efficiently. But it doesn’t end there. Not only do employees come and go, but so does your equipment and the skill sets of the employee if the task is not performed on a regular basis. Annual auditing is a key component of maintaining your LOTO program in highest regard for safety and productivity.

Periodic inspections/audits will help companies maintain the established procedures to minimize risk along with maintaining compliance, and ultimately protecting the investment of the safety program. The purpose of an annual audit is to verify all required procedures are in place, accurate, effective and optimized to the ideal lockout process. Inspecting each employee on the proper lockout process and retraining employees is vital in order to achieve effective execution of the program. Companies also s hould provide comprehensive documentation of these annual audits being conducted and keep these records of dedication to protect their investment in the program, as audit records and documentation are compliance requirements as well.

The three steps to a successful audit program include meeting the appropriate frequency of annual periodic inspections at a minimum, ensuring authorized employees are competently trained to audit, and certifying that the inspections are being performed with proper documentation.

An environment that is highly productive and efficient is a culture where employees are secure, safe and cared for. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a safe and healthy workplace not only protects workers from injury and illness, it can also lower injury/illness costs, reduce absenteeism and turnover, increase productivity and quality, and raise employee morale. In other words, safety is not just a good practice—it is good for business.

1910.147(c)(1) Energy Control Program (300 violations) 

The employer shall establish a program consisting of energy control procedures, employee training and periodic inspections to ensure that before any employee performs any servicing or maintenance on a machine or equipment where the unexpected energizing, startup, or release of stored energy could occur and cause injury, the machine or equipment shall be isolated from the energy source and rendered inoperative.

The purpose of the energy control program is to provide written policies and rules within your safety management system. This regulation addresses the practices and procedures necessary to disable machinery or equipment that will prevent the release of hazardous energy while employees perform servicing and maintenance activities. The way the procedure is documented can make a big difference to the person trying to carry it out correctly. The different types of procedure documentation is up to each company to determine which documentation format is going to be most effective for your employees and equipment.

When authorized employees are locking out equipment, it’s generally recommended to utilize a graphical format. Graphical procedures tend to provide the clearest, most easily accessible and visually appealing guidance. Proper location and identification of all energy sources is also essential.

1910.147(d) Application Control (185 violations) 

The established procedures for the application of energy control (the lockout or tagout procedures) shall cover the following elements and actions and shall be done in the following sequence.

Always adhere to the lockout/tagout procedures set forth by OSHA. You can find each step here: EHS

Nick Schiltz is a content marketing specialist with Grace Technologies, a provider of electrical safety products and predictive maintenance solutions.  

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