Lockout and tag out is not a new idea. It’s not a complicated idea. And, most of the time, it doesn’t even require specialized equipment. Yet, improper lockout and tag out—or none at all—continues to cause injuries in manufacturing workplaces each year. In fact, an in-depth risk assessment recently identified lockout and tag out as the number-one hazard in food manufacturing. This risk assessment, which was facilitated by WSPS, brought together management and front-line representatives with other industry stakeholders. After much debate and discussion, the group unanimously agreed that inadequate lockout and tag out was the greatest risk to workers. “Incidents caused by improper lockout or lack of lockout may not be the most frequent, but when they occur, they tend to be more severe. We’re talking about things like crushing injuries, burns, amputations, sometimes even death,” says Michael Wilson, Specialized Consultant (Machine & Robot Safety) with WSPS.
Lockout and tag out is a common health and safety practice that should be part of every workplace. It comes into play when dangerous energy must be controlled during certain activities—often a task that is outside of a machine’s normal operation. “Lockout and tag out procedures are used in manufacturing settings for many reasons,” explains Michael. “For example, when conducting maintenance, when setting up or making adjustments to a machine, or if you need to clear an extensive jam.” It refers to the process used to control potentially hazardous energy as it relates to the machine, so that employees can safely work on it. “As a worker, you want to be in control of the machine’s hazardous energy and ensure it’s locked out before you put your hands, arms, or body inside,” says Michael.
Practice proper lockout and tag out
Follow Michael’s expert advice to ensure that your workplace has effective lockout and tag out procedures. It’s the best way to reduce the risk to your employees and protect them from potentially life-changing injuries.
Provide machine-specific training. Generic lockout training is not enough. Workers need to understand how to lockout the specific machines they are working on, so make sure that this information is included in your training. “We’re seeing employers create placards with specific lockout instructions and post them near the machine,” says Michael. “I see these as a tool for someone who has been properly trained and authorized to perform lockout and tag out. They are not a crutch for someone who doesn’t understand how to do it.”
Get to a zero-energy state. “Electrical energy is the most common source that we think about, but we also have hydraulic energy, kinetic energy, chemical energy, and even gravity. These are all potential sources of energy that need to be controlled,” says Michael. “People often think that once they’ve turned off the electricity, they’re safe.” The electricity may govern the controls for a machine, but even if the electricity is off and locked out, there could still be stored energy present in the machine. Understanding how to control or release stored energy is something that must be addressed in machine-specific lockout and tag out training. “Employees who are authorized to perform lockout must have the training, knowledge, and experience required for the specific machine they are working on,” says Michael. He explains that an authorized worker will know how to control the stored energy at a specific machine. “For example, some machines may have an automatic dump to tank or automatic pressure release valve to release hydraulic energy or compressed air,” says Michael. “If there are chemicals, make sure they can be blocked or restrained by using valves or blanked flanges. If you know that parts of a machine could fall under their own weight, make sure you have a proper means to block those parts from falling. The procedure for controlling and / or releasing stored energy should be addressed in your machine-specific lockout training.”
Train supervisors, not only workers. When Michael delivers lockout and tag out training, it’s usually to people who actually do lockout and tag out. “What about the supervisors?” asks Michael. “Supervisors are the ones responsible for ensuring proper lockout and tag out procedures are followed. If you’re a supervisor and you don’t know what proper lockout and tag out looks like, how are you going to know if it was done properly?”
Remember to clearly tag your lock. As with most things, communication is key. As part of an effective lockout and tag out procedure, the lock should have information so that others know exactly what’s happening. “The information tag is often used as a means of communication,” explains Michael. “It should include name, date, and why the machine is locked out.” Michael described instances when workers found untagged locks and assumed they were old, so cut them off and turned the machine back on. “When there are no tags, it can lead to confusion and, potentially, injuries,” says Michael.
How WSPS can help
Connect with a WSPS machine and robotics expert to learn how best to protect your workers.
Lockout/Tag out Safety Essentials (classroom; in-person or virtual; 3.5 hours)
Lockout/Tag out Self-Study Training Program (DVD, workbook)
Managing Machine Safety (classroom; 3.5 hours)