Safety in a workplace is one of the main concerns of every company and worker.
Workplace safety for routine and non-routine activities is so important that regulations are in place to ensure that safety procedures, training, and compliance are followed. For non-routine activities, lockout/tag-out procedures are in place to prevent certain unnecessary mishaps in the workplace.
Lockout/tag-out, otherwise known as LOTO, refers to procedures and practices put in place to safeguard workers from hazardous energy releases.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a standard for The Control of Hazardous Energy. This standard is stated in the 29 CFR 1910.147, where it lays the general industry measures for controlling different types of hazardous energy and its sources. This standard is also known as the lockout/tag-out procedure, and it establishes the employers’ responsibility in protecting workers from hazardous energy. Aside from implementing the six basic LOTO procedures discussed below, employers are also required to train workers to ensure that they are aware, understand, and able to follow the LOTO procedures.
Hazardous energy refers to energy such as electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal, or other sources in machines and equipment that are hazardous to exposed workers. Exposure of this energy to workers during operation, service, or maintenance can result in serious injuries or death.
Workers responsible for the operation, service, or maintenance of machines or equipment that are considered sources of hazardous energy can be subject to severe injuries or be killed if such power is not adequately controlled. The dangers can also come from other equipment in the area that is not the equipment actually being worked on.
Some of the harmful effects of hazardous energy may include, but are not limited to the following:
- Chemical exposure
- Body part fractures
There are six primary proper lockout/tag-out (LOTO) steps or procedures in handling hazardous energy under OSHA standards:
The first step of locking and tagging out the equipment or machine that is identified as the source of hazardous energy for service and maintenance is to prepare. Here, an authorized employee would investigate and completely understand all types of hazardous energy that might be controlled. This means they would be identifying the specific hazards to plan how to manage that hazardous energy.
The second step is shutdown. After the hazardous energy has been identified and planned on how to handle the issue, the actual process of powering down and locking out machines containing the hazardous energy is shut down for servicing or maintenance.
During this step, any employee affected by the shutdown of the machines is informed of the LOTO procedure. This step is effective even if they are not part of the service or maintenance.
The third step is isolation. This step is when the machine or equipment from any hazardous energy source is isolated. This may include turning off the power at the breaker or shutting down a valve to ensure that energy is cut off from the machine.
The fourth step is the actual lockout/tag out of hazardous energy sources. This procedure is composed of the authorized employee attaching the lockout or tag-out device to each machine or equipment source of the hazardous energy.
This step aims to apply the lockout device on the energy-isolating device to secure the machine or equipment in a “safe” position where it cannot be moved to a dangerous position by anybody except the authorized employee performing the lockout.
During this procedure, each of the machines or equipment is tagged, thus called a “tag out.” This tag includes the name of the authorized employee who performed the lockout and any additional information identifying the risks or procedures down on the source of hazardous energy.
The fifth step is called stored energy check.
During this process, the authorized employee is looking for any residual or stored hazardous energy in the machine or equipment even though it has been locked out or is disconnected. If such hazardous energy is still a threat, the said energy must be relieved, disconnected, restrained, or neutralized before the maintenance of the machine or equipment.
This last step is all isolation verification.
At this stage, the authorized employee is safe to work on the machine or equipment. They then verify once the device has been properly isolated and neutralized, it no longer poses a threat to other workers.
Lock Out/Tag Out programs are centered on controlling hazardous energy and its sources. It is also not limited to an electricity source but involves any power that can cause severe injury or death to anybody exposed to it. Such energy includes air, heat, water, chemicals, and hydraulics. Compliance with these procedures is essential in ensuring workplace safety, and any violation of these steps can have catastrophic effects. Thus, all workplace employees and management need to be vigilant and committed to the LOTO implementation.
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