I work at a meat processing plant. One day, it was my turn to clean the machine so I turned it off, waited until the conveyor stopped, and double-checked to make sure it was safe to get started. A second later, the conveyor started running. I almost got my arm caught but pulled it out just in time. Another worker didn’t realize I was back there cleaning it out and switched it back on. I got lucky, but I started taking steps to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Lockout-tagout (LOTO) are the practices and procedures that help protect employees from the unexpected startup of machinery and equipment or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities.
The procedure is required under OSHA regulations when employees service or maintain machines where the unexpected start-up, energization, or the release of stored energy could cause injury.
LOTO Procedures to Follow
Lockout involves placing a lock and tag on an energy-isolating device in accordance with an established procedure. This indicates that the device is not to be operated until the authorized individual removes the lock and tag. This procedure controls hazardous energy by isolating it from the system – a machine, piece of equipment, or process – and locking the system in a safe mode.
Tagout specifically refers to the labeling process that must be used when a lockout is required. This is a compulsory part of the LOTO process. It involves attaching an indicator (generally a standardized label) with the following information:
- The reason for the lockout (repair, maintenance, etc.)
- The time the lock and tag was applied
- The name of the authorized person who attached the lock and tag to the system
The only person authorized to remove the lock and tag is the same person who attached them. This ensures that the system is not restarted without the knowledge of the person who initiated the lockout.
If employees are exposed to hazardous energy while servicing and maintaining equipment and machinery, it’s critical that employers take action to mitigate this safety issue.
- Develop, implement, and enforce an energy control program
- Ensure all new or overhauled equipment is capable of being locked out
- For machines that cannot be locked out, develop, implement, and enforce an effective tagout program
- Ensure all lockout-tagout devices are authorized for the machinery or equipment they are being used with
- Provide effective, compulsory training for all employees authorized or affected by this OSHA standard
What Should Employees Do?
While employers must provide a safe work environment for employees, workers can take steps to help ensure their own safety.
- Make sure you know and understand the provisions of hazardous energy control procedures
- Understand and apply lockout-tagout procedures as required
- Attend and participate fully in all training sessions offered by your employers
- Have a question? Need further clarification? Ask before taking a risk
Lockout-tagout procedures can prevent very serious injuries. It’s critical that employers develop and enforce LOTO policies and clearly communicate them to all affected workers. Offering ongoing training and ensuring all equipment and machines have LOTO capabilities can help ensure the safety of anyone who works around them.
For a more comprehensive understanding of the LOTO standard, consult OSHA's 1910.146 standard.