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October 25, 2013
Avoid six-figure OSHA fines with effective lockout/tagout procedures

OSHA inspectors are back in action following the 15-day federal furlough, citing and fining businesses that fail to follow regulations. Find out how lockout/tagout violations earned one contractor a six-figure fine and how to prevent making the same mistakes.

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A New Jersey concrete company was cited with 18 safety and health violations, one of which was classified as willful. The investigation was conducted in response to a complaint alleging a variety of hazards at the business. OSHA responded with proposed penalties of $153,900.

The willful violation was due to the lack of a lockout/tagout program to prevent accidental machine start-ups. More than a dozen additional violations involved confined spaces, air monitoring, respiratory protection and training, hazard communication, and exposure to silica.

In explaining the agency’s actions, the OSHA area director commented, “Employers will be held legally responsible when they fail to uphold their responsibility to provide a safe and healthful workplace.”

Be vigilant about controlling hazard energy sources

The purpose of lockout/tagout is to control sources of energy, including electrical, mechanical, thermal, hydraulic, pneumatic, and chemical energy. When machines and equipment are serviced and maintained, an unexpected start-up or release of stored energy can injure or kill employees. Failure to follow the rules can lead to electrocution, burns, crushing injuries, amputation, fractures, and more.

According to OSHA, the 3 million employees who service equipment face the greatest risk of injury from exposure to hazardous energy. On average, an employee injured in such an accident loses 24 workdays.

Here are the steps OSHA recommends to protect employees and to stay in compliance with lockout/tagout regulations for general industry (29 CFR 1910.147).

  • Use lockout devices for equipment that can be locked out. Tagout devices may be used instead only if the tagout program provides equivalent employee protection.
  • Develop, implement, and enforce an effective tagout program if machines or equipment are not capable of being locked out.
  • Make sure that new or overhauled equipment is capable of being locked out.
  • Develop, document, implement, and enforce energy control procedures.
  • Use only lockout/tagout devices authorized for the particular equipment or machinery, and ensure that they are durable, standardized, and substantial.
  • Make sure locks and tags identify the individual users.
  • Establish a policy that permits only the employee who applied a lockout/tagout device to remove it.
  • Inspect energy control procedures at least annually.
  • Provide effective training for all employees covered by the standard, depending on their classification:
    • Authorized employees are those who service machinery and equipment. They are trained to recognize sources of hazardous energy and perform lockout/tagout procedures.
    • Affected employees operate machinery or equipment that requires lockout/tagout during servicing, but do not themselves service the equipment or perform lockout/tagout procedures. They must be instructed in the purpose and use of lockout/tagout procedures, trained to recognize lockout/tagout devices, and informed not to disturb these devices or attempt to operate equipment when lockout/tagout is in effect.
    • Other employees work in areas where lockout/tagout procedures are used, but do not operate machinery or equipment. They must be trained not to start locked or tagged out equipment and not to remove locks or tags.
  • Comply with the additional energy control provisions in OSHA standards when machines or equipment must be tested or repositioned, when outside contractors work at the site, in group lockout situations, and during shift or personnel changes.
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