Controlling Hazardous Energy

Lockout/tagout should be second nature for waste workers.

Another waste industry worker killed. The headlines have been both gruesome and sad. In Hawaii, a roll-off truck driver was crushed to death by the rails of his vehicle as he attempted repairs with the hoist raised. In Oregon, a waste truck driver died after being crushed by the compactor blade when he went inside the body of the vehicle, with the engine running, to clean behind the blade. In New Jersey, a recycling center worker was killed while inside a baler to remove a paper jam. A co-worker accidently activated the machine, which was not locked out.

The above tragedies could have been prevented with an effective program to control hazardous energy. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has specific regulations (1910.147) regarding the control of hazardous energy, a standard commonly referred to as “lockout/tagout.” OSHA defines energy as electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, thermal, chemical and mechanical. Mechanical energy is a combination of kinetic and potential energy resulting from the force of gravity or from the release of a component such as a spring or clamp. Thus, a machine or vehicle need not be running to contain hazardous mechanical energy (i.e., the hoist of a roll-off truck in the air).

OSHA requires employers to establish a program consisting of hazardous energy control procedures, employee training and periodic inspections (at least annually) to ensure that the control procedures are being followed. Failure to install an adequate lockout/tagout program is one of the leading citations issued by OSHA against waste companies.

Personnel performing repairs or routine maintenance are most likely to be involved in an accident involving hazardous energy. However, line workers, drivers and helpers also have been injured or killed in such accidents. For this reason, it is important that all workers receive training on lockout/tagout procedures and rules. As with all employee training, the entire training process should be documented.

Besides training, the establishment and enforcement of written work rules regarding hazardous energy are vital to preventing accidents. Drivers or mechanics should not work inside or under a truck unless the truck is turned off and the keys are in their pockets. Workers or maintenance personnel servicing a machine in a recycling center or MRF should padlock the machine's power source and keep the keys to the padlock in their pockets. Drivers, helpers and mechanics should never trust the hydraulics, and should never be under a raised hoist, tailgate or truck body unless that part of the truck has been blocked off with appropriate safety devices.

While the waste industry has shown improvement in protecting workers from hazardous energy, the accidents described above are a grim reminder that there is still work to be done. It would be prudent for all waste companies to take some time to revisit their lockout/tagout procedures and training programs to make sure that they not only meet OSHA requirements, but also effectively protect workers.

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