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February 20, 2013
Do your workers have all the answers they need for safe lockout/tagout?

It's the end of the year—is this the time of year when you perform annual maintenance tasks? If so, workers may be dusting off infrequently used lockout/tagout procedures and performing tasks they don't do very often. Now would be a good time to review the basics of hazardous energy control.

Background on lockout/tagout

Who needs to be trained? Workers who clean, repair, service, set up, or adjust a machine or equipment must be trained under General Industry Safety Orders (GISO) Section 3314 in how to control potentially hazardous energy sources.

Why train workers in lockout/tagout? When equipment starts up unexpectedly, moves, or shifts while employees work on it, they can suffer crushing injuries, amputations, and other disabling or even fatal damage.

Basics of lockout/tagout

Instructions to trainer: Sometimes special equipment is required for locking out equipment or blocking hazardous energy sources. Be sure workers get a chance to try out any equipment they will be required to use.

We're going to perform some tasks that require the use of lockout/tagout procedures, and we want you to be protected from potentially hazardous energy sources. So we're going to give you the answers you need before the questions even arise.

When should you use lockout/tagout? Whenever you have to put yourself in a dangerous position involving machinery, take precautions. For example, you want to make sure a piece of equipment can't start up, cycle, or move before you:

  • Put your hands, arms, or upper body into the point of operation of the machinery;

  • Put your body under an elevated piece of equipment, such as a raised dump truck bed, that could fall on you; or

  • Put yourself in the path of something that could move unexpectedly, like a parked vehicle and a trailer.

Where are the energy sources? Electricity is an obvious energy source, but it is not the only one. Other forms of potentially hazardous energy include mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, and thermal energy sources. Each source of potentially hazardous energy will be identified in the lockout procedure for each process or piece of equipment.

How do I control these energy sources? You must neutralize each energy source associated with a process or piece of equipment.

For some energy sources, this may mean shutting the power off and locking the switch. For others, it could mean securing them so they cannot move. For example, if you elevate a hopper, you might need to place a block underneath it so it cannot fall on you.

Do I need PPE or special tools? You may need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) or use special tools while working on locked out equipment. The equipment could pose hazards that do not involve energy sources, like sharp edges, hazardous chemical exposures, or hot surfaces.

Who needs to know? If you're going to take a piece of equipment out of service so you can work within the zone of danger, you're not the only person who needs to know. Your coworkers who operate the equipment, work nearby, or work near the power source for the equipment should be informed of the lockout. That way, they will not inadvertently interfere—by bypassing your lockout, trying to operate the equipment, or doing anything else that could endanger you.

Practice tip

Under GISO Section 3314, your energy control procedures must be reviewed annually by "someone other than the workers using the procedures." The reviewer must certify that the procedures are still effective.

Conclusion

When you are going to put yourself in the zone of danger, be sure you ask all the right questions—and get all of the answers you need—before you begin. This way, you can avoid questions you don't want to ask, like "How could this happen?" and "What went wrong?"

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