The Keys to Lockout/Tagout

Picture yourself performing maintenance inside of a huge machine. Suddenly, the machine 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 start-up while performing job activities.

When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently revealed the 10 most-violated OSHA standards, based on citations issued from Oct. 1, 2004, through Aug. 30, 2005, lockout/tagout was the fifth-most-cited standard.

“Obviously, companies should comply with lockout/tagout regulations so they don’t receive citations and fines from OSHA,” says Benjamin Mangan, president of MANCOMM and American Safety Training Inc., two companies that align to provide OSHA compliance products and safety training. “But most importantly, companies should comply because lockout/tagout prevents accidents and saves lives.”

During lockout/tagout, a person authorized by the company places locks and/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.

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

Lockout/Tagout in the Workplace

Lockout/tagout is required when servicing or performing maintenance on equipment. 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, away from the equipment. Note that locks and tags must be marked with names or pictures identifying them with the authorized workers placing them, and other people can’t 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. Workers should stay clear while locks and tags are removed and the equipment is prepared for normal operation. Workers should be informed when lockout/tagout is complete.

Test your Lockou/Tagout Knowledge

So, do you think you know lockout/tagout? Take this test and see.

1) What is the purpose of lockout/tagout?
a) To make sure the work is being completed on time.
b) To protect people from serious harm due to accidental release of energy.
c) To make sure the workplace is secure after-hours.
d) To make sure employees are in top physical condition.

2) What is an energy-isolating device?
a) A lock
b) A mechanical device like a valve or a circuit breaker
c) A tag
d) A and C

3) Who can service equipment?
a) Any employee
b) Management
c) Authorized workers
d) Custodians

4) What must happen before removing a machine guard?
a) You must put on eye protection.
b) Ask a trusted co-worker to watch the controls so no one else will touch them.
c) Tell everyone you see in the work area they need to be especially careful.
d) Lock/tag the equipment.

5) What is a tag used for?
a) To hang around a worker’s neck.
b) To identify company products.
c) A warning to not operate equipment.
d) None of the above

6) When are tags used?
a) When a lock can’t be used.
b) When products go on sale.
c) When a government official says they can be used.
d) All of the above.

7) You can help an authorized person by fastening their lock to a disconnect switch.
a) True
b) False

8) What kind of lock is used for lockout?
a) A lock from the worker’s personal locker.
b) A piece of strong wire.
c) A plastic zip tie.
d) A lock specifically identified for lockout.

9) What can be used to remove a lock from an isolating device?
a) A hacksaw.
b) A key.
c) Bolt cutters.
d) A cutting torch.

10) What types of lockout/tagout records should be kept?
a) Written lockout/tagout procedures.
b) Inspection documents.
c) Training records.
d) All of the above.

A score of 10 correct answers is the only acceptable score for total OSHA compliance. When it comes to safety, knowledge is power, and comprehensive training on lockout/tagout is the best way to assure that workers are familiar with that lifesaving procedure.

“ Workers may need training from time to time to refresh their lockout/tagout skills, or to introduce new or revised lockout/tagout control procedures,” says Mangan. “Plus, they may need refresher training when there are changes in their job assignments, machines, equipment or work processes.”

Test answers:
1) b, 2) b, 3) c, 4) d, 5) c, 6) a, 7) b, 8) d, 9) b, 10) d.

Refresher training also may be needed if the company finds out a worker has not been following the rules. Lockout/tagout training is an ongoing process. Like any other type of training, it’s never a one-shot deal.
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