Definition of LOTO: What is Lockout Tagout Safety?

If you deal with the maintenance and service of dangerous equipment, Lockout/Tagout is a huge part of your safety program. Understanding it – and making sure everyone on your team understands it – is critical.

What is Lockout/Tagout?

"Lockout/Tagout" is a term for a safety program that protects workers from being maimed or killed by the machinery, equipment, or energy sources that they're working on or around. Specifically, Lockout/Tagout procedures are supposed to protect workers by preventing any kind of unexpected startup or release of stored energy.

This type of hazard can take many forms, but the catch-all term for it is a "hazardous energy release."

There are two critical components to LOTO: locking others out of reenergizing the equipment and tagging to warn everyone that a lockout is in progress.

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Why is LOTO important?

OSHA imposes some pretty substantial fines if you fail to follow the Lockout/Tagout standard. This standard, CFR 1910.147, is one of the top ten most frequently cited violations.

But that's nothing compared to the human cost.

According to OSHA, there are up to 3 million U.S. workers who face the greatest risk while servicing equipment, including craft workers, machine operators, and other laborers.

Injuries from hazardous energy releases are typically quite serious – examples include electrocution, burns, crush injuries, lacerations, amputations, or fractures. Workers injured this way lose an average of 24 days away from work while they recover. That's more than a month for those that work 5 days a week.

And OSHA estimates that LOTO compliance prevents 50,000 of these injuries each year, as well as 120 deaths.

They also estimate that up to 10% of industrial safety accidents are related to a LOTO failure. In other words, the Lockout/Tagout standard saves lives, but it's only as good as its implementation.

When Is Lockout Tagout Required?

Any time a worker is going to work on or around a machine or piece of equipment that can cause an injury, then Lockout/Tagout regulations apply. This includes equipment that could smash, cut, shock, trap, burn, or otherwise injure a person.

LOTO procedures must be applied during a wide range of activities, including construction, installation, setup, adjustment, inspection, modification, maintenance, and service.

Some situations call for LOTO procedures even if you're not working directly on the equipment itself. For example, if workers are entering an area with moving machine parts, those machines must be completely deenergized and locked out / tagged out before entry.

Many times, hazardous energy release accidents happen because people fail to apply LOTO procedures to tasks they think are safe, like cleaning, lubricating, or unjamming equipment. There are some specific routine tasks where LOTO doesn't apply, but the exception isn't as broad as you think, and it's better to assume safety precautions are necessary.

Technically, CFR 1910.147 doesn't apply in agriculture, construction, maritime industries, or oil/gas drilling and servicing. However, the control of hazardous energy is also addressed in a number of other OSHA standards that affect those industries, including but not limited to §1926 Subparts K, Q, and V, §1917 Subpart C, and §1918 Subpart G.

Even if no specific regulations apply, the General Duty clause will, and LOTO can save thousands in worker's compensation and medical expenses.

What Are the Lock Out / Tag Out Steps?

The goal of Lockout/Tagout procedures is to ensure that relevant equipment is inoperable, all power sources are isolated, all stored energy is released before work begins, and that no one can or will try to reenergize the equipment before work is complete.

To accomplish all of those things effectively, specific LOTO procedures should be tailored to your particular company, workflow, and equipment.

However, there are five basic lockout/tagout steps.

Step 1: Communicate the shut-off to relevant employees

Before the LOTO begins, you should inform all employees who work near or with the affected equipment of the shut-down plan and likely timeline.

While you're going to put locks and tags in place as reminders, proactive communication sets expectations and helps minimize confusion.

Step 2: Identify all hazardous energy sources

Identifying all hazardous energy sources can be more difficult than it sounds, especially for complex equipment.

Many machines have residual or stored energy separate from the primary energy source. When designing your lockout/tagout practices, you need to consider all possible sources of hazardous energy and make a plan to control each that exists in the most effective way.

Hazardous energy sources may include:

  • Electrical. Consider all sources of electrical energy, including backup systems and stored energy in batteries and capacitors.
  • Mechanical. This is energy created by motion, and it's easy to overlook – consider any moving parts, including the potential effects of gravity or an accidental bump that translates to momentum.
  • Hydraulic. When hydraulic equipment's electrical system is deenergized, the breaks will disengage, and stored hydraulic energy may be released. Even if spontaneous release seems unlikely, hydraulic energy must be released before safe work can begin.
  • Pneumatic. Similar precautions must be taken with pneumatic equipment as hydraulic systems.
  • Chemical. The unexpected release of chemical energy can occur for many reasons, like if chemicals change temperature, pressure, or come into contact with one another. The most common example is an internal combustion engine burning gasoline.
  • Thermal. Consider whether the machinery can become active from thermal energy. Thermal energy (hot or cold) may be stored in the equipment from mechanical work, radiation, chemical reaction, and electrical resistance, among others. Also consider external sources like the sun.

Step 3: Isolate all hazardous energy sources

Before working on any machinery or equipment, each potential source of hazardous energy you identified above must be isolated.

For primary sources of energy, this will mean disconnecting the equipment completely from all potential inputs.

For electrical lockout/tagout, this will involve electrical circuit breakers, plugs, or disconnect switches. For chemical, hydraulic, or pneumatic energy, you typically isolate the fluid or gas using ball or gate valves, blind flanges, blocks, or something similar. Make sure there's no way that pressure can reaccumulate during work.

You should NOT consider an energy source to be properly isolated through the use of push buttons, e-stops, selector switches, or control panels.

You'll also need to release any form of stored energy, like properly discharging hydraulic or pneumatic pressure. Additionally, you need to block, isolate, or remove any form of potential and kinetic energy. For example, you'll want to lock any movable machine parts.

Step 4: Lock and tag the hazardous energy sources

The purpose of both locks and tags is to ensure equipment isn't reenergized before it's safe. Locks and tags are usually applied at breakers or electrical disconnects, traditional plugs, and battery backups because electrical lockout/tagout is the most common. However, any source of power will need a lockout device.

A lock physically prevents power from being restored (and/or otherwise renders the equipment inoperable), while a tag indicates that the equipment shouldn't be turned on, along with additional information on who engaged LOTO protocol and when.

Ideally, you use a lockout device in conjunction with a lockout tag. OSHA allows tagout devices when lockout isn't possible, but the tagout program needs additional layers to provide equivalent employee protection.

The LOTO standard has been in effect since 1990, so many manufacturers of potentially hazardous equipment design for and recommend specific lockout devices. It's important to use a lockout device that's appropriate to your equipment. It should fit in such a way that equipment can't be reenergized.

Lockout devices come in many forms. They're usually red with prominent labels. The most common types are padlocks of all shapes and sizes, clamp-on breaker devices, and boxes that enclose an electrical plug. However, many specialty lockout devices also exist.

Step 5: Ensure the equipment has been effectively isolated

Before work begins, you should confirm all sources of energy have been dealt with. Typically this involves trying to operate the equipment to make sure you can't.

It should also include steps like checking pressure gauges and double-checking.

LOTO Training

LOTO training is required for workers involved in or working in areas where they might be affected. Initial training has to start before they begin relevant work. The standard doesn't require regular refresher training, but you do need to retrain if you have reason to believe an employee is failing to use LOTO appropriately

Specifically, §1910.147(c)(7) requires that authorized employees are trained in the general concepts, as well as your specific procedures. Employees who work in an area where LOTO procedures apply also need general training.

Online training from an OSHA-authorized provider can be an effective and efficient way to train workers on the general concepts of lockout/tagout. It enables you to provide a low-cost but thorough foundation in the requirements so your training can focus on the hands-on stuff.

Looking for broader help with your compliance training? Check out our business solutions and learn how we can keep you compliant and safe while saving you money!

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