What is Lockout Tagout? The Importance of LOTO Safety

As industrial processes evolved, advancement in machineries started to require more specialized maintenance procedures. More serious incidents occurred that involved highly technological equipment at the time. Servicing powerful energized systems were identified as one of the key contributors to injuries and fatalities in the evolving times.

In 1982, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) published its first guidance on the practice of lockout/tagout to provide safety precautions in the maintenance of hazardous energy sources. LOTO guidelines would then develop into an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation in 1989.

What is lockout tagout?

Lockout/tagout (LOTO) refers to safety practices and procedures that ensure dangerous machines are properly shut off and are not able to unexpectedly release hazardous energy during maintenance activities.

OSHA Guidelines

Guidelines as prescribed by OSHA covers all sources of energy, including—but not limited to—mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, and thermal. Manufacturing plants would typically require maintenance activities for one or a combination of these sources.

LOTO, as the name implies, specifies two general approaches to ensure that employees are protected from dangerous equipment during maintenance activities – 1) lockout, and 2) tagout. Lockout physically limits the access to certain equipment while tagout provides visible warning signs to inform employees of potential hazards.

How lockout tagout works

OSHA, through Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1910.147, provides standards on the proper maintenance and servicing of equipment that can potentially release hazardous energy. Companies should identify equipment that is required by law to abide by these maintenance standards. Not only to avoid hefty fines, but, more importantly, to ensure the safety of the workers.

A robust documentation process is required to ensure all equipment complies with federal regulations on LOTO processes during maintenance activities. The capability to add LOTO procedures to the CMMS can significantly improve visibility on the progress of more hazardous tasks.

7 Steps of lockout tagout

Once equipment with hazardous energy sources are properly identified and maintenance procedures are documented, the following general steps should be accomplished before servicing activities are carried out:

  1. Prepare for shutdown
  2. Notify all affected employees of the activities and equipment involved
  3. Shut down the equipment
  4. Isolate the equipment from the hazardous energy source
  5. Dissipate residual energy
  6. Apply applicable lockout or tagout devices
  7. Verify that the equipment is properly isolated

Lockout tagout tools

Physical tools required to perform LOTO procedures can be classified as generally two types:

Lockout devices:
Physical restraints that ensure that a particular equipment is inaccessible or isolated; basic example is in the form of a lock and key

Tagout devices:
Prominent warning devices that visibly identify an equipment to be potentially hazardous; these can be in the form of signs or symbols attached securely to equipment

More recently, non-physical tools such as specialized software are being utilized to make LOTO processes more efficiently performed. Tracking LOTO activities through maintenance management software is an advantageous functionality to ensure accurate compliance to standards.

The importance of lockout tagout

Incident reports show that a shocking number of maintenance tragedies could have been prevented by implementing some basic lockout/tagout process.

In 2012, the tragic demise of a 21-year old on his first day as a temporary worker could have been prevented if only proper LOTO precautions were practiced. A palletizing machine was mistakenly switched on while he was performing cleaning tasks.

The promotion of a safety culture in a plant’s operations should be kept in mind to safeguard employees from avoidable harm. Seemingly obvious processes can go a long way if performed consistently and consciously. Observing the practice of lockout/tagout is a concrete way of making the workplace safer.

Conclusion

Performing lockout/tagout procedures is a way to ensure the safety of workers, particularly from hazardous energy sources. Failure to comply with LOTO standards not only causes fines, but also potentially causes injuries and even fatalities. Tools such as lockout and tagout devices, as well as available software, should be maximized to make the workplace safer.