Heavy machinery in a factory has the potential to be dangerous, and employers may want to have employees safe by doing lockout/tag-out procedures. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) typically lists this as one of its top 10 citations made every year, according to EHS Today.
The basic premise behind lockout/tag-out is to avoid discharging hazardous energy from a machine and injuring a worker. Hazardous energy can be a steam vent left running when someone is working nearby, potentially causing burns, but it also could mean a machine that has been improperly isolated and then charged with electricity as a result. Failing to lockout/tag-out could injure someone either through electric shock or a machine suddenly turning on.
According to OSHA, workers who are most at risk for injuries like this are electricians, craft workers, machine operators and general laborers. Ten percent of all the injuries that happen in a factory are caused by improper lockout/tag-outs, OSHA said.
Proper training can save lives
The most effective way to prevent injuries is to train workers in best practices. Employers may be able to prevent injuries by making sure employees follow all relevant safety procedures. For any questions about particular pieces of equipment, company safety directors or trainers may want to check with the device manufacturer for lockout/tag-out information.
There also are best practices that OSHA recommends, included in the standards 29 CFR 1910.147. Workers can be instructed in safe methods for keeping devices powered down and ensuring there is no residual hazardous energy left that can harm anyone. Employers may want to remind employees that not only electricity, but any form of energy, such as radiation or heat, can be dangerous for workers.
Safety experts recommend only trained, authorized employees perform lockout/tag-out procedures to be sure they are done properly every time. Employers may consider having a well-established system for indicating whether equipment is fully locked out before workers go inside a place where there could be hazardous energy. This is especially true in places with a lot of electricity, which can be latent in wires through undischarged static. Oftentimes, workers are encouraged to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) even when something is locked out because of the danger of static-electric shock.
Isolating dangerous machines
Some machines could restart if power is discharged from a source accidentally, making it important to keep them isolated. This means shutting down any means by which energy can flow to them. Direct physical cut-off of power cables could prevent sending electricity to a machine by accident. OSHA recommends employers implement a policy of proving machines have been isolated by sending energy to the device through the usual means and seeing if it turns on or not. If it is fully isolated, then it can be locked out and tagged out, so workers are aware that the machine is powered down. Failing to tag something as locked out may cause employees to think it is broken, which could lead workers to try fixing the machine, placing them at risk of injury when the power starts up after the machine is taken off isolation.