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Why Lockout/Tagout Is Critical to your Safety Program


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Each year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration releases the Top 10 Most Cited Violations of safety and health standards. For any employer, this list is a good starting point when doing a safety and health audit. Coming in at number five is control of hazardous energy, or lockout/tagout.

Controlling hazardous energy is often called lockout/tagout because that is a prime way to to avoid exposure to these hazards. Similarly to the second most cited OSHA standard, the highest number of violations is due to people failing to do  the very first thing one should do to prevent these types of accidents. Namely, they do not develop, document, or use procedures to control potentially hazardous energy. 

The Dangers of Uncontrolled Energy

Uncontrolled hazardous energy causes about 10% of all serious accidents on the job. Besides killing people, it burns, crushes, cuts, lacerates, amputates, and fractures. The people who face the greatest risk are those who service machines and electrical equipment. When machines and equipment start unexpectedly, the human body is no match for it. On average, one nonfatal exposure to hazardous energy results in 24 days of recuperation.

Uncontrolled hazardous energy causes about 10% of all serious accidents on the job.

Construction work sites have plenty of energy hazards, and no site is more likely to kill or injure than one where a demolition site. Removing electrical equipment is risky because even if power is off, capacitors still store lots of energy. Machines often have spring-loaded components with huge levels of stored energy. On any type of construction site, equipment mishaps and breakdowns often set up deadly scenarios that unfold at blinding speed. The first defense is always to know the risks. That's why you need to document procedures for controlling hazardous energy.

The second most cited section of this standard is 1910.147(c)(6)(i), or the requirement to inspect your energy control procedures annually. Its main aim is to make sure people are following the procedures, and that the procedures still match the standard's requirements.

The third most cited section is also fundamental to avoiding uncontrolled releases of energy: failure to isolate machines and equipment from their energy sources so that they are inoperative. The way to do that is by having energy control procedures, training, and inspections in place for whenever an employee services or maintains equipment or machines.  

Notifications Must Go Both Ways

With the sheer breadth of machine and equipment types, people might easily miss potential hazards. Therefore, the fourth most cited section of this standard is all about training. You need to make sure people get the training they need so they understand the energy control program. They also need to know how to apply, use, and remove energy controls safely.

Whenever someone applies and removes lockout or tagout devices, they need to notify all affected employees.

The fifth most cited section of this standard is 1910.47(d). Whenever someone applies and removes lockout or tagout devices, they need to notify all affected employees. Most importantly, you have to notify before taking the actions, not after, or even immediately after. Disabling a piece of equipment or machine can create hazardous situations for people working with other machines or equipment. And, when removing controls, the released energy can also pose hazards to others. 

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