The first quarter of the year is already in full swing. For most organizations, this time also means review and assessment season. This is the period where you, as employers and safety managers, should have already started on assessing the safety programs and policies in your workplace or are about to. If you haven’t gotten that underway yet, well now is the time to do so.
One essential safety program that you need to focus on is your lockout tagout program. An effective lockout tagout can save lives and help reduce industrial accidents by thirty to fifty percent. It can also significantly increase workplace productivity by making lockout activities more efficient, which results to lesser downtime. These, and other vital reasons, are what makes a lockout program critical in providing and maintaining a safe workplace.
Here are six critical points to consider when assessing if your existing lockout safety program meets the standards or require updating or changes.
Compare actual maintenance and servicing activities against your lockout tagout policies. What is written on your lockout program may not be what is actually happening on the floor. Make sure your employees are following the proper procedures and rules in your lockout program, even if the tasks they are doing may seem menial. Check if your lockout procedures clearly define what constitutes normal production operations against when equipment will be locked out.
Check if all possible energy sources have been identified and correctly labelled. Ensure your workers’ safety by identifying and labelling all potential energy sources in your facility. Workers usually apply locks and tags on the main electrical disconnect, but there might be additional energy sources that exist such as hydraulic, thermal, pneumatic, radioactive, or chemical energy. After locating these energy sources, use padlocks, labels, and tags for easy identification.
You also need to check if the energy source is correctly identified. Usually, when workers isolate energy source, the circuit type devices such as on/off switches, interlocks, emergency stops, and three-way selector switches are just locked out. This is an unsafe practice; control circuits do not isolate the flow of electrical energy to a piece of equipment. You need to use an energy isolating device such as an electrical circuit breaker or main electrical disconnect for proper equipment isolation.
Ensure all of your workers’ protection. Lockout/tagout guarantees your worker is protected while performing maintenance, servicing, and other equipment tasks. However, if more than one employee is working under the same lockout/tagout device, safety is compromised. A worker could unintentionally remove their locks and tags, and expose unprotected employees. The best practice for this is for each worker to use their personal lockout/tagout device on each energy isolating device. For complex jobs that involves several workers and more than one energy source, you need to use a group lockout.
Check if the correct locks are being used. There are many incidents of misuse of lockout/tagout in the workplace. Instances of all workers using the same keyed locks or the supervisor having a duplicate key for all his employees have occured. In these scenarios, anyone can remove each other’s locks, which is a critical hazard. Security is also an issue, since everyone will have access to personal lockers and tool cribs. Unless otherwise needed, you need to use uniquely keyed lock that come with only one key. You must also use standardized lockout and tagout devices that are not used for other purposes.
Perform a “Lock-Tag-Try”. This is a safety procedure to ensure that hazard machines are properly shut off and will not be started up before and during the maintenance and servicing of the equipment. This is done to prevent hazardous energy from escaping or being released. You need to do this to ensure that the power source is isolated and rendered inoperative before any repair procedure is started.
Make sure all affected employees are trained. Employers are required to provide lockout tagout training to employees who apply padlocks and lockout tags to equipment. However, machine operators and all workers who work near an equipment must also receive training. In addition, all other employees, and even management employees, must undergo awareness training on lockout/tagout and the policies against removal of lockout locks and tags from energy isolating devices or attempting to operate locked out equipment. This goes for all new hires or those holding new positions as well.
You, as employers, are required to conduct an annual review of your lockout/tagout program to verify your program’s effectiveness. Each equipment’s specific lockout procedure should also be reviewed in real time to check if it is being performed correctly, and if it is still relevant and effective with the existing work conditions of your workplace. Performing these assessments will help ensure you and your workers are safe and keep your workplace in good running condition.
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