Lockout/tagout Prevents Workplace Injuries and Saves Lives: Lockout/tagout Is Easy to Accomplish. So Why Is It One of OSHA's Most-Violated Standards and Why Are Employees Continuing to Be Injured by Energized Equipment?

By Mangan, Benjamin | Occupational Hazards, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Lockout/tagout Prevents Workplace Injuries and Saves Lives: Lockout/tagout Is Easy to Accomplish. So Why Is It One of OSHA's Most-Violated Standards and Why Are Employees Continuing to Be Injured by Energized Equipment?


Mangan, Benjamin, Occupational Hazards


Picture yourself working inside an enormous machine, tending to its maintenance. You are comfortable with this task: You've done it dozens of times before. But this time, the machine suddenly springs to life, powerful metal gears grinding around you, placing you in mortal danger.

That is exactly the sort of terrifying scenario that lockout/tagout is meant to prevent. Lockout/tagout is a procedure to disable equipment to protect workers from either an unexpected release of energy or an accidental startup while servicing or repairing equipment.

When OSHA revealed the 10 most-violated OSHA standards, based on citations issued during FY 2006, the fifth most-cited standard was lockout/tagout. Lockout/tagout also occupied the No. 5 slot in FY 2005, which marked a small degree of improvement from 2004, when it was No. 4 on the list.

Obviously, companies should comply with lockout/tagout regulations because when they do not, they run the risk of being cited and fined by OSHA. When a company does not comply with OSHA standards, the company can be assessed a penalty up to $70,000--and not less than $5,000--per willful violation. While trying to avoid such hefty fines is a good reason to comply, the best reason is because companies care about the well-being of their employees. Quite simply, lockout/ tagout prevents workplace injuries and saves lives.

Three Phases

During lockout/tagout, a person authorized by the company places locks or tags on energy-isolating devices before working on equipment, and only that person can remove those locks and tags. Isolation devices are mechanical appliances--such as circuit breakers--used to stop energy from being released to the equipment.

Locks or tags can be placed on equipment that utilizes several different types of energy, such as electrical energy, as found in circuit breakers and fuses; mechanical energy, as found in springs and gears; hydraulic energy, as found in cylinders and valves; pneumatic energy, as found in valves and air receivers; chemical energy, as found in tanks and valves; and any other source of energy.

Lockout usually is accomplished with a keyed lock holding an isolating device in an "off" position. Tagout, which often is used when lockout cannot take place, uses tags to warn people that the equipment and isolating device should not be operated.

Effective lockout/tagout should occur in three phases: applying lockout/tagout; servicing and repairing equipment; and returning equipment to proper operation.

Applying lockout/tagout--The authorized worker should notify workers in the area that lockout/ tagout procedures will be taking place. Those workers should listen to any instructions given by the authorized worker and move to a safe location. Locks and tags must be marked with names or pictures of the authorized workers, and other people cannot attach or remove locks or tags on behalf of authorized workers.

Servicing and repairing equipment--Workers should stay away from the equipment during this phase, which is when the authorized person will be working on the equipment and is most vulnerable to the unexpected release of hazardous energy.

Returning equipment to proper operation--During this phase, the authorized worker should tell workers in the area when locks and tags will be removed. …

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