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July 10, 2014
NIOSH: Lockout/tagout failures cause numerous injuries in food manufacturing

According to a new article on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Science Blog, food manufacturing workers experience a higher rate of injuries and illnesses than workers in private industry as a whole. What’s behind this difference, and what can employers do about it? Keep reading to find out.

Food manufacturing includes everything from animal slaughtering and processing to packaging of meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables, grains, seafood, beverages, and bakery products. In 2012, the 1.5 million workers in the industry experienced an injury and illness rate of 5.4 per 100 workers, compared with 3.4 per 100 workers for private industry overall. The total estimated direct and indirect costs for those injuries exceeded $1.4 billion—and lost-time injuries cost an average of $76,000 each.

According to NIOSH, many machine-related injuries in the food manufacturing industry are related to failure to use lockout/tagout procedures. From 2003 to 2013, 28 fatalities and 227 serious injuries (such as amputations) were related to lockout/tagout procedures in food manufacturing, with the largest number of incidents occurring in meatpacking and poultry slaughtering and processing. Lockout/tagout was also the most frequently cited OSHA violation in 2012–2013 for food manufacturing, with penalties totaling over $894,000.

The article speculates that the pressure to maintain a fast pace on assembly lines could be a part of the reason that many food processing facilities fall short on hazardous energy control. “Given the production pressures in this industry, workers may feel that managers would rather have them risk injury than stop production to properly apply LO/TO procedures,” the authors state. However, they continue, “When energy sources are not locked out, any unexpected startup of a machine or other equipment can result in amputations or death. . . . An injury, death, or even a fine from a violation can quickly nullify gains from increased work speed.”

To prevent the often severe injuries that result from these incidents, NIOSH recommends following all OSHA requirements for lockout/tagout (29 CFR 1910.147). Specific recommendations for an effective lockout/tagout program include the following:

  • Develop and implement a written hazardous energy control program that includes lockout/tagout procedures, employee training, and inspections before any maintenance or service work is done.
  • Be sure that workers have a clear understanding of when hazardous energy control procedures apply and training on how to properly apply the procedures.
  • Develop lockout/tagout procedures specific to each machine in the facility.’
  • Provide training to production workers in addition to maintenance workers in methods of energy isolation and control.
  • Ensure that workers are provided with a sufficient amount of locks, tags, and any other hardware that may be necessary.
  • Clearly label isolation devices, such as breaker panels and control valves.
  • After removing lockout/tagout devices but before starting the machine, make sure that all employees who operate or work with the machine, as well as those in the area where service or maintenance is performed, know that the devices have been removed.
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