In many businesses and industrial applications, the safety of employees depends upon being able to perform specific tasks without the fear of injury caused by the inadvertent actions of others. Generally speaking, this involves safeguards that help insure a machine or other device undergoing repairs will not suddenly begin operating, and that electrical circuits being worked on will not unintentionally be re-energized. The specific procedures involved in this form of prevention are commonly referred to as lockout/tagout.
Who uses lockout/tagout?
Lockout/tagout procedures are used by electrical utility companies when switching or performing maintenance on power lines. Many factories and industries use them as part of their routine maintenance programs. Schools and universities operating their own physical plants typically have a lockout procedure in place. Lockout kits and lockout tags are readily available in a variety of configurations that are designed to meet regulations published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Approximately three million employees and contractors routinely work on or service some type of equipment or machinery that has the potential to inflict injury if lockout kits and lockout tags are not used, according to OSHA.
What are the basic procedures for lockout/tagout?
The basic procedures for lockout/tagout are the same regardless of the application. The first step is to shut down the machine or device that will be worked on. In most cases, this will mean disconnecting the machine from its electrical supply by using a switch or disconnecting a cable. If this is not possible, then a circuit breaker may have to be tripped or a portion of the machinery may actually have to be dismantled. It is vital that this step be performed in such a way that isolation from the energy source is guaranteed. Once the machine has been disconnected and isolated, the disconnecting device is locked open with a physical lock requiring a key or other mechanism, available to authorized individuals only, to unlock it. A tag is then placed on the disconnecting device describing that the device is locked open and naming the individual who locked it. Once the work has been completed, the person who placed the tag can remove it and re-energize the device that was locked out.
Company procedures and training
To insure safety, companies should adopt procedures for locking out and tagging specific devices and train their employees on how to use the procedures. Many of these procedures are designed in such a way that only the person locking out and tagging out a device is allowed to reverse the action. Additionally, for a program to be effective, lockout kits and tagout kits must be readily available for use at all times.