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Vehicle Lockout/Tagout: Are You Prepared?

June 4, 2013
Bringing your operations into compliance with OSHA's requirements for vehicle lockout/tagout can present a variety of challenges.

Since the publication of OSHA's Control of Hazardous Energy Sources final rule in 1989, the implementation of lockout/tagout has vexed the private sector. Lockout/tagout often is complex, and it can be a challenge to achieve the standard's performance-orientated goal of ensuring "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."

See Also: Workplace Safety Management Best Practices

As a result, year after year, lockout/tagout makes it to OSHA's list of the top 10 most frequently cited standards, as well as the list of top 10 standards with the highest penalties. In 2012, lockout/tagout ranked No. 5 for frequency and No. 3 for severity.

A largely unnoticed development occurred in the practice of lockout/tagout in 2008 with the publication of OSHA's revised Enforcement Policy and Inspection Procedures for the Control of Hazardous Energy (CPL 02-00-147). In this instruction, OSHA made clear to its compliance officers that they were expected to include vehicles "such as, but not limited to, automobiles, trucks, tractors, refrigeration transport vehicles, and material handling equipment" in their definition of the scope of the lockout/tagout standard.

An Unknown Regulatory Risk

From 2009 to 2012, I worked as a loss control representative for a national property/casualty insurance carrier that specializes in auto dealerships and vehicle maintenance facilities as one of its niche industries. During that period, this expansion in the application in lockout/tagout never once crossed my radar. I have been through hundreds of vehicle dealerships and maintenance shops across the country, and I have not seen the principles of lockout/tagout applied to vehicles in a single one of them. 

My experience includes working with some of the largest owners and operators of auto dealerships in the United States. In my opinion, OSHA's 2008 instruction to its compliance officers simply has not yet impacted industry practices.

Until now.

One of my clients, a national logistics firm, recently experienced an OSHA inspection. The inspection was not prompted by a complaint or injury, or in fact anything remotely related to lockout/tagout – in other words, it was your typical run-of-the-mill OSHA visit. To my great surprise at the time, the result was multiple serious citations pertaining to the lockout/tagout of vehicles.

Per the OSHA instruction that established this expansion of lockout/tagout: "Serious injuries and death have occurred and continue to occur from inadequate hazardous energy control during vehicle servicing and maintenance activities ... Generally speaking, for purposes of vehicle servicing and maintenance, hazardous energy refers to: mechanical motion; potential energy due to pressure, gravity, or springs; battery-generated electrical energy, which can cause injury to employees working in, on, or around machines or equipment. Any vehicle [e.g., internal combustion engines such as gasoline, natural gas and diesel powered vehicles; electric-powered vehicles; hybrid (gasoline/electric) vehicles] may contain the following types of hazardous energy, such as, but not limited to:

  ➠ Chemical energy due to contact with battery acid, coolant, lubricants;

  ➠ Electric battery shock, arc and burn hazards;

  ➠ Explosion hazards associated with air bags;

  ➠ Fire and explosion hazards associated with the fuel and fluid systems;

  ➠ Gravitational energy (mechanical) hazards caused by elevated vehicles (e.g., unsafe use of automotive lift equipment) or vehicle components (e.g., unsupported elevated dump truck beds; unsupported elevated forklift carriage assembly);

  ➠ Hot or cryogenic fluid, and surface (thermal) hazards;

  ➠ Hydraulic hazards associated with fluid pressure and fluid loss (e.g., causing a carrier bed to drop);

  ➠ Mechanical hazards associated with disc brake spring and tire components;

  ➠ Mechanical motions due to moving power transmission components;

  ➠ Premise wiring electric wiring hazards associated with battery recharging (which are addressed by the Subpart S – Electrical standards); and

  ➠ Mechanical hazards associated with unexpected start-up or unexpected energization of vehicles or vehicle components."

The OSHA instruction does allow that "Due to the nature and unique aspects of vehicle maintenance and servicing activities, the control of hazardous energy final rule's preamble recognizes feasible measures to prevent an engine from being started." The removal of the vehicle's key, for example, may serve to adequately address the hazards associated with unexpected energization of the engine, but only if the employee performing the work maintains exclusive control of the vehicle's one and only key. 

The OSHA compliance officer with whom we dealt on this inspection was especially concerned about the hazards associated with multiple employees performing work on a vehicle, and insisted that it would be necessary in such situations to provide a lockbox to store the key under group lockout procedures.

As indicated by potential sources of hazardous energy listed above, in OSHA's view, maintaining exclusive control over the vehicle's key is not enough. OSHA states that "Although this control practice reasonably protects employees from inadvertent startup of the vehicle's engine, it may not adequately control other sources of energy that are independent of the ignition key subsystem." 

According to OSHA's control of hazardous energy standard for general industry, the following basic requirements must be applied to vehicle maintenance:

  ➠ Written procedures shall be developed, documented and utilized for the control of potentially hazardous energy.

  ➠ Locks, tags, chains, wedges, key blocks, adapter pins, self-locking fasteners or other hardware shall be provided by the employer for isolating, securing or blocking of machines or equipment from energy sources.

  ➠ 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.

  ➠ 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.

Good News, Bad News

The good news is that most of the appropriate control measures associated with these sources of hazardous energy are likely to already be standard operating procedure in well-run maintenance shops. 

For example, the use of locking jack stands while working underneath an elevated vehicle is common practice; in the parlance of lockout/tagout, a locking jack stand would be an "energy isolating device" in this context. Similarly, well-trained maintenance technicians regularly disconnect battery cables, relieve hydraulic pressure, chock tires and perform any number of similar energy-control measures in their daily duties as required by the work they are performing. The primary challenge is that these employees have not typically been considered "authorized employees" under lockout/tagout by most employers, so there will be a significant training need throughout industry.

The bad news is that, because this regulatory change does not yet appear to have changed industry practice on a wide scale, there are very few publicly available resources available to assist in the development of quality procedures. A search of the Internet will not turn up sample policies, templates of procedures or best practices that will help an employer comply with this interpretation of lockout/tagout. 

As of early 2013, a few universities (such as Pennsylvania State University, Kent State University and the University of Maine) have developed basic policies addressing vehicle lockout/tagout, but even these do not appear to include procedures to the level of detail that would be required based on OSHA's instruction on this topic.

In terms of actual implementation, my experience working with my client to bring operations into compliance with OSHA's stance on vehicle lockout/tagout has turned up a variety of practical challenges. The development of comprehensive written procedures especially is difficult because vehicle maintenance is such a variable task; the procedures that would need to be applied to each vehicle would be different based on the type of maintenance to be conducted as well as the characteristics of that particular vehicle. 

For example, it may always be a good idea to chock vehicle tires, but it will not always be necessary to disconnect battery cables. Additionally, the practicality of applying locks vs. tags vs. energy isolating devices is difficult to judge. For instance, when disconnecting a battery cable, would it be necessary and practical to apply a lock to ensure it cannot be reattached by anyone but the authorized employee?

Beyond the procedures themselves, the identification and purchase of appropriate hardware can be a challenge. Currently, there are very few lockout/tagout products available that are specific to vehicle maintenance. One such product is a wheel cover with the mandated lockout/tagout warnings written on it that can be secured to a vehicle steering wheel with a lock, but the available versions of this item are relatively expensive due to the lack of competition in the marketplace.

Only time will tell if the citations OSHA issued to my client represent nothing more than a quirk of a local compliance officer or if this is an early warning sign of things to come. In either case, general industry businesses would be well advised to review their current practices on vehicle maintenance.

Will Kramer, CSP, CPCU, ARM-E, ARM-P, is a former associate investigator with a U.S. Senate Oversight and Investigations committee. That work, along with his participation and training with the Senate Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness, led to his interest in safety and risk management. He has a Master of Science degree in emergency management, has served as a training consultant to international NGOs and is currently a safety and risk management consultant with Integrated Risk Solutions. He can be reached at [email protected].

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