Nervous Energy

Lockout/tagout procedures are the best way to control hazardous energy.

Thousands of workers are killed or seriously injured each year from the unexpected energizing, startup or release of machinery and equipment. Just recently, in New Jersey, a municipal mechanic’s left arm was crushed as he performed maintenance work on a garbage truck and required amputation. Another incident in Oregon last year resulted in the death of a garbage truck driver who was crushed by his truck’s compactor blade and led to $17,500 in fines for a variety of safety violations, including the lack of lockout/tagout procedures.

Incidents like these hammer home the importance of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) “The Control of Hazardous Energy - Lockout/Tagout,” Title 29 Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) 1910.147. Approximately 39 million workers are affected by this rule. Designed to disable or de-energize equipment of the truck while maintenance or service activities are carried out, lockout/tagout procedures can play a vital roll in preventing catastrophic incidents as well as controlling insurance losses and potential safety violations. It’s estimated that compliance with the standard has helped prevent approximately 122 fatalities, 28,400 lost workday injuries and 31,900 non-lost workday injuries each year since its inception in 1989.

Employees may be exposed to hazardous energy during installation, maintenance or repair work. A comprehensive lockout/tagout program protects employees from:

• Kinetic energy in the moving parts of mechanical systems.

• Potential energy stored in pressure vessels, gas tanks, and hydraulic or pneumatic systems and springs (energy that can be released as hazardous kinetic energy).

• Electrical energy from generated electrical power, static sources or electrical storage devices (such as batteries or capacitors).

• Thermal energy (high or low temperature) resulting from mechanical work, radiation, chemical reaction or electrical resistance.

OSHA requires employers to develop and implement a hazardous energy control program implementing logout/tagout procedures to ensure that all sources of energy are neutralized, de-energized or otherwise reduced to a “zero energy state.” A “lockout” physically prevents an energy isolation device from being moved out of the locked position. The “tagout” portion of the procedure refers to affixing a tag to the isolation device that indicates the reason for the lockout, the person(s) performing the work, the date and other information required to alert workers in the area of the shutdown.

Unlike lockouts, tags can be bypassed, and do not provide a physical lockout at the isolation device. Lockout is, therefore, the preferred method of isolating machines or equipment from energy sources, and should be used whenever possible. If tags are used, additional steps may be necessary to provide the equivalent safety available from the use of a lockout device. Any newly obtained or modified equipment should be equipped with lockout capability.

Per OSHA, an employer must appoint a coordinator to oversee lockout/tagout programs, including implementation, enforcement and training. “Authorized” employees are empowered to perform lockouts or tagouts after being trained regarding specific procedures for de-energizing their equipment. Authorized employees must know and understand the type and magnitude of energy that the machinery or equipment utilizes and its hazards. “Affected” employees are classified as anyone who could be exposed to hazardous energy sources, and they must be trained to recognize lockout/tagout procedures for the equipment they operate, even if they are not authorized to perform them. Similarly, new or transferred employees require training regarding the energy hazards present at their new work locations.

Generally, lockout/tagout steps are not difficult to follow. But in their haste to get something done quickly, employees may be tempted to bypass the measures. Unfortunately, it only takes a moment for a potentially deadly mishap to occur. Basic lockout/tagout procedures involve the following:

• Notify all affected employees that a lockout/tagout is in effect and why.

• If the machinery or equipment is still in operation, shut it down using the normal stopping procedure.

• Engage isolating devices to disconnect the equipment from its energy source(s). All potentially hazardous stored or residual energy must be relieved, disconnected, restrained or otherwise rendered safe. After ensuring that no personnel are exposed, operate the push button or other normal operating controls to confirm that the equipment will not operate.

• An authorized employee should affix a lockout/tagout device to each energy-isolating device so as to secure it in a safe or off position. Tags, when used, should be affixed in a manner that clearly prohibits movement of the energy-isolating device from the safe or off position. Tags that cannot be affixed directly to the energy-isolating device should be located as close as safely possible to the device and in a position that will be immediately obvious to anyone attempting to operate the device.

• The equipment is now locked/tagged out.

Using lockout/tagout procedures may add a few additional steps or take a little more time. In return, however, these procedures provide invaluable assurance that work can be performed safely and without the threat of accidental start-up, movement, electrification or injury.

Matt Gartner works for XL Specialty Insurance Company.

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