Every industrial maintenance department has procedures in place that ensure worker safety. One of those procedures is called lockout/tagout, or LOTO. It is easily one of the most important safety procedures to follow because without it, no other safety measures are enough. According to esafety.com, widespread use of proper lockout/tagout processes prevents 50,000 injuries and 120 fatalities each year. So what is lockout/tagout, when should it be used, and what are the steps involved? Read on to learn about all of this and more.

Green injection moulding machine that needs to be locked out during the lockout/tagout process.

What is Lockout/Tagout?

The term lockout/tagout refers to the procedure used to ensure that equipment is shut down and inoperable until maintenance or repairs are completed. It involves affixing a physical lock, such as a padlock, to an asset’s power transmission components to prevent the machine from being energized while it is being serviced. In addition, a tag identifying the worker who placed it is applied to warn others that the machine is down for maintenance.

Lockout/tagout is used to keep employees safe from assets that could injure or kill someone if hazardous energy is not correctly managed. Hazardous energy includes any energy sources that can hazardous to workers—electrical, pneumatic, hydraulic, chemical, nuclear, thermal, or gravitational or mechanical. This energy must be controlled while repairing or servicing machinery.

Further Reading: Keeping Assets Healthy: A Complete Guide to 4 Types of Maintenance

When to Use Lockout/Tagout

Lockout/tagout should be done any time someone must install, construct, set up, adjust, inspect, modify, maintain, or service a machine or piece of equipment, enter areas with moving parts, or reach into a machine to examine, adjust, or remove a part. A LOTO procedure must be in place to do this work safely. Lockout devices can be used and LOTO procedures established for any equipment that can be locked out.

Tagout devices can be used in lieu of lockout devices. If tags are used instead of a lock, there needs to be additional levels of employee protection in place. The reason for the additional safety measures is that an asset would be labeled as inoperable, but could mechanically be operated if the tag isn’t seen or gets ignored. The LOTO devices need to be authorized by the manufacturer for the particular equipment or machinery, ensuring they are substantial, durable, and standardized.

The Six Steps in the LOTO Process

A proper LOTO process involves multiple steps that must be followed to ensure worker safety. The following steps describes a typical LOTO process.

Step 1: Preparation

The first step is to prepare. Find the procedure that needs to be used, whether it’s printed and pinned on the wall, stored in a computer document, or saved in a software program. Each person involved in the process should review it every time. Comprehensive training on each step of the process for employees who carry out lockout/tagout is very important. Make the procedure easy to access and follow every detail. The employees affected by the lockout should also be informed. Think, plan, and check everything before and during the process. Rehearse the steps in your head if you need to until you feel adequately prepared.

Step 2: Shutdown

The second step is to shut down the machine. This occurs before the actual isolation of energy and locking out or tagging out the machine. Standard procedures for shutting down the machine (per manufacturer’s guidelines) should be used. Operating components should be turned off first (if appropriate per the manufacturer’s guidelines). Depending on the type of machine, you may need to power it down like you would a computer rather than simply hitting an on/off switch. You may have to select menu prompts to confirm shutdown and wait a few minutes for the machine to be completely powered down. Once the machine is shut down, double check that power is completely turned off.

Step 3: Isolation

The third step is to isolate the hazardous energy. This can be in the form of electrical, pneumatic, or mechanical energy, and other forms. If the energy is not isolated, it can be released during maintenance which is what causes injuries. The energy sources should be listed on the procedure. These sources include things like electrical components, hydraulics, and chemicals.

Step 4: Lockout/Tagout

The fourth step is the lockout/tagout. Use the locks and tags that have been assigned. In rare cases, the machine cannot be locked out and can only be tagged out; however, in most cases, both can and must be done. If more than one person will complete this process (on different shifts), each should have their own lock and tag. A supervisor may remove them for a worker, but only in extreme circumstances. The lock and tag needs to be attached to the energy isolating device. This process is done by someone trained and authorized to do so. The lock and tag are placed directly on the machine to alert others that it is not operating.

Step 5: Stored Energy Check

Step five is to check for stored energy. Make sure the area is clear, check for the stored energy, and disconnect the source of this energy. Take hazards into consideration that should be secured before beginning maintenance work.

Step 6: Isolation Verification

The final step in lockout/tagout is to verify that the energy has been isolated. This is an extra precaution to ensure no one gets injured (by way of electrocution, chemical burn, moving parts hitting a limb, or many other possibilities) and nothing gets damaged.

Common Mistakes Made with LOTO

There are a number of mistakes that can be made in the lockout/tagout process. The most common mistake is forgetting to double check work at any point. Verifying each step ensures it was done right and keeps things as safe as possible. Sometimes there are physical locks on machines or power bars that turn on and off. Was the lock closed all the way and did the power bar actually get turned off? Much like a pilot has a flight checklist to complete before take-off, a person performing LOTO should have one as well.

Other mistakes include not having a proper procedure in place, incorrectly using a tag or lock, working under someone else’s lock (which would inaccurately record who performed the lockout/tagout), failing to identify all energy sources, or having duplicate keys distributed to multiple people for the same lock.

Fix Mistakes by Auditing the Process

Mistakes are reduced (and the process is improved) by auditing the process. A LOTO audit is likely part of an overall maintenance audit. The person doing the auditing is looking for whether or not the current process was closely followed. If it was, did that make it safe to interact with the machine, or is it still unsafe? Specific changes would depend on what the machine is.

A better lockout/tagout program can be built by creating a more detailed procedure. Training on the importance of respecting locked and tagged machinery as well as on the lockout/tagout process itself is essential. Another area to look at is whether or not the locks and tags were swapped to the correct person’s set during shift changes. Anyone who completes the process also needs to know how to correctly and safely bring the asset back online.

How CMMS Software Assists with Lockout/Tagout

Computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software is helpful for documenting lockout/tagout procedures. While some organizations use CMMS and other LOTO software separately with no integration, that scenario is not ideal. There can be minor gaps in between the functions of CMMS and other software, which are okay, but major gaps should be addressed. Some CMMS systems require a LOTO extension.

The LOTO process can also be made front and center on work order instructions, which may limit company liability in case of an accident. The CMMS system can help enforce work order approval where the job must be signed off by a manager before the machine is returned to services.

OSHA-compliant procedures might exist in the form of checklists that technicians must check off, or as attachments in the software. You should review the lockout/tagout OSHA requirements and documentation regularly.

Specifically, CMMS software keeps records of the process being completed and stores documentation to help workers follow the process. When working on the process, maintenance needs access to it. It should be presented as something employees have to use during the LOTO process. It will help them to document when lockout/tagout has been done.

Document LOTO procedures with FTMaintenance

FTMaintenance is CMMS software that can greatly assist you with LOTO—no extension required. Our attachments feature stores your documentation. There is a place on each work order or work order template where you can include LOTO instructions. Maintenance history will also reveal if and when this process is followed properly. To learn more about FTMaintenance and how to incorporate it with your lockout/tagout procedures, request a demo today.



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