The Importance of Lockout/Tagout Programs

by Melanie Baravik
February 22, 2018

Construction is a dangerous business — you might be working with heavy machinery, electricity, or hazardous materials like silica dust and asbestos. That’s where OSHA comes in: the agency’s purpose is to create safety standards for all workplaces. Given construction’s high number of hazards, OSHA makes safety for the industry a priority. And one of the biggest safety concerns is proper lockout/tagout procedures.

What is lockout/tagout?

Lockout/tagout are two methods to prevent a machine or piece of equipment from being turned on and transferring energy while maintenance is being performed. With the lockout method, a lock is placed on the machine’s energy-isolating device that prevents it from turning on and injuring the person working on it. Using the tagout method, a tag with a warning is placed on the energy-isolating device to show that the machine can’t be used or turned on until the tag is removed. Energy-isolating devices — like circuit breakers or disconnect switches — are the parts of the machine that prevent energy from being released. It’s important to note that a tagout procedure can only be used if there is no way to lockout the machine.

Lockout/tagout procedures are needed for any machinery or equipment that uses a hazardous energy source — including electrical, mechanical, chemical, thermal and hydraulic energies, just to name a few. Uncontained, that energy can pose a huge hazard to anyone that comes in contact with it, and that’s why lockout/tagout is such a vital part of your company’s safety plan. And it’s not just important in construction. Anytime large machines or equipment are used, like in a manufacturing plant, OSHA requires proper lockout/tagout protocol.

Here are the steps you’ll need to take to be compliant with OSHA’s lockout/tagout standards.

Documented lockout/tagout procedures

First and foremost, your company’s lockout/tagout procedure has to be written down. OSHA provides some examples of these procedures, so start with their resources if you’re new to this process. This procedure needs to include:

• Specific steps for isolating and blocking energy transfer from machines and equipment
• Specific steps for how lockout/tagout devices will be handled when they are attached and removed, and responsibility for the devices
• Requirements for testing machines and equipment to demonstrate the effectiveness of the lockout/tagout procedure

Some companies use the two methods together, and equipment is both locked and tagged for extra protection. Before you decide how your lockout/tagout program will work, thoroughly review OSHA’s standards to ensure you cover all your bases.

Effective lockout/tagout devices

Different machines and equipment will likely need different kinds of locks, depending on what kind of energy-isolating device is being locked out, and on whether a lockout or tagout device will be used. Lockout devices have to be extremely secure, and should not be able to be removed easily — as OSHA puts it, removal should require “excessive force,” like bolt cutters.

If you’re using tagout instead of lockout, the tags must all be uniform and legible, clearly stating “Do Not Operate,” “Do Not Start” or a similar message. They must also be securely fastened to machines and equipment, and should be resistant to accidental removal.

Both lockout and tagout devices need to withstand their environment — if they’re on equipment outdoors, they must be able to last through bad weather and rough jobsite conditions. Devices must show the identity of the person who attached it.

Ongoing employee training and procedure review

Proper training is essential to ensuring your lockout/tagout program is effective. Without training and enforcement, lockout/tagout programs are basically useless and won’t protect your employees from the serious injury and death that hazardous energies can cause. Emphasize to your workers how important it is to follow procedure — most companies have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to lockout/tagout, and employees that don’t follow procedure are immediately terminated.

Locks and tags must be attached and removed by the same person; if that person is unavailable, the employer must conduct or supervise its removal. After that, the employee who originally attached the device must be notified that it was removed. Any employees who will be working in the vicinity of locked or tagged out machines need to be aware of what lockout/tagout devices mean and why they are used. Sometimes properly executing the procedure can be time-consuming, resulting in cutting corners. That can lead to serious, even fatal accidents. Make sure everyone understands the seriousness of neglecting the program.

At a minimum, lockout/tagout programs must be reviewed annually, and employees need to be retrained if new machines or equipment are introduced or if there’s any kind of change in procedure, including new job assignments. Retraining also needs to occur with the annual review of the lockout/tagout program, or anytime you think it’s necessary.

Though we’ve covered some of the most important parts of lockout/tagout procedures, this isn’t everything. Given the dangerous consequences of inconsistent lockout/tagout practices, make sure you spend plenty of time reviewing OSHA’s standards and establishing a program that works for your company.

Read more about construction safety:

Penalties for OSHA Violations — What Could it Cost You?
6 Tips for Fall Protection in Winter Weather
Equipment Reliability and Safety

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