Seven percent of workplace deaths result from the unexpected activation of a machine or piece of equipment during servicing or maintenance according to the Department of Labor. In addition, more than 25,000 workdays are lost each year due to failure to properly isolate equipment from energy sources.

To combat these types of accidents, OSHA regulates the practices and procedures necessary to disable machinery or equipment for servicing and maintenance with Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) standards. The OSHA regulations hold employers responsible for protecting employees from hazardous energy sources—electrical, chemical, hydraulic, mechanic, thermal and pneumatic.

LOTO significantly improves safety environments for craft workers, machine operators, and laborers who are most likely to be injured or killed by hazardous energy. In fact, LOTO prevents about 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year according to OHSHA.


What Are the Harmful Effects of Hazardous Energy?

Workers servicing or maintaining machines or equipment may be seriously injured or killed if hazardous energy is not properly controlled. Injuries resulting from the failure to control hazardous energy during maintenance activities may include electrocution, burns, crushing, cutting, lacerating, amputating, or fracturing body parts, and others.

  • A steam valve is automatically turned on burning workers who are repairing a downstream connection in the piping.
  • A jammed conveyor system suddenly releases, crushing a worker who is trying to clear the jam.
  • Internal wiring on a piece of factory equipment electrically shorts, shocking the worker who is repairing the equipment.

Craft workers, electricians, machine operators, and laborers are among the millions of workers who service equipment routinely and face the greatest risk of injury.

The Problem: A maintenance employee turns off the power to a piece of equipment and sticks their arm into the machine to clear out a jam. A co-worker, unaware the power is off for a reason, turns on the equipment, seriously injuring the maintenance employee.

It’s important NOT to rely on a verbal communication system alone to maintain workplace safety. Miscommunications happen. That’s why implementing and following lockout/tagout procedures are crucial for everyone’s safety.


What is Lockout/Tagout?

LOTO programs and protocols are used to keep employees safe from equipment and machinery that could injure or kill them if not managed correctly when being serviced or maintained.

  • Lockout: The placement of a device that blocks the flow of energy from a power source to a piece of equipment or machinery.
  • Tagout: The placement of a tag on or near the lockout device to warn others not to restore energy to the equipment.


Why Your Company Needs to Implement and Maintain LOTO Procedures

It’s crucial that your maintenance employees, who maintain and support your company’s machinery, also stay safe. Implementing a LOTO program can prevent deadly scenarios from occurring in your workplace. A carefully thought-out LOTO program saves lives by:

  • Protecting employees from an accidental release of energy
  • Preventing employees from operating equipment when it’s not safe to do so
  • Warning employees that equipment is being serviced

Keeping employees safe is the strongest reason for a LOTO program; however, there are also large fines associated with failing to follow OSHA’s standard for The Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) 29.CFR1910.147 


How to Develop a Good LOTO Program

One of the crucial steps is creating machine-specific steps for each machine or piece of equipment. Compile information about each individual machine, including:

    • The energy sources and magnitude that may be connected to each machine
    • How to shut down the machine and release or restrain stored energy
    • How to isolate the energy sources
    • How to verify a successful lockout
    • Hot to restart equipment

Write LOTO procedures for each piece of equipment to be used by employees who provide maintenance or service to that machine. They must cover every step of the process. Copies of the written policies should be posted by the equipment. A master record should also be a part of your company’s LOTO written policies and procedures manual. Be sure to include photos that show switches, knobs, or other details to remind employees of the components that are part of the process.


Here are 6 common steps of LOTO procedures:

  • Step 1. Prepare for Shutdown. The authorized employee must refer to the company procedure to identify the type and magnitude of the energy that the machine utilizes, understand the hazards of the energy and know the methods to control the energy.
  • Step 2. Notify Affected Employees. Notify all employees affected by the servicing or maintenance that the machine or equipment must be shut down and locked/tagged to do so.
  • Step 3. Shut Down Equipment. Power down the machine or equipment in a safe and orderly manner, in accordance with the equipment specific procedures or operating instructions.
  • Step 4. Isolate Energy Sources. Make sure all sources of energy have been isolated. Turn off power, close valves, block moving parts, etc.
  • Step 5. Apply LOTO Devices. Lock out the energy-isolating devices (switches, knobs, levers) with assigned individual locks (padlocks, safety hasps). Each device should also feature a tag that displays the name of the employee who applied the device and the reason for the lockout.
  • Step 6. Release all Secondary Energy Sources. Even if the primary source of energy has been disconnected, there could be sources of residual energy, trapped heat in a thermal system or hydraulic pressure, that need to be safely relieved, disconnected, or restrained.
  • Step 7. Verify Isolation. Once confident that all hazardous energy has been disconnected, employees can perform the maintenance or repair procedures.
  • Step 8. Restart Equipment. When the maintenance or repair task is completed restart the equipment. Remove all tags and locks and inform affected employees the work is complete.

Train employees on LOTO procedures. At least annually review and revamp these procedures. Train and retrain employees at regular intervals and send frequent reminders, so employees continue to understand and follow LOTO procedures and are aware of any revised or additional steps.

Have questions about establishing or reviewing the LOTO program in your company? Let’s talk.


About the Author

John Kersey joined Healy Group in 2003 and has over 30 years of experience designing risk management programs for commercial clients. As a risk management advisor, John strives to build strong relationships with his clients and business partners to understand their needs better and provide the best risk management strategies for their unique situations.