Health and Safety in the workplace is something that we may view as tiresome and – in some cases – restrictive, but when all is said and done, these procedures and regulations are designed to keep us safe. All employers have the basic duty of care to ensure the workforce is as safe as possible at all times, and all employees also have such a duty to their fellows in the workplace, and modern Health and Safety procedures are carefully crafted to keep everyone safe.
There are some such procedures that are quite specific, among them the ubiquitous lockout-tagout routine, usually used to isolate machinery or equipment that needs servicing or maintenance. The purpose of lockout-tagout – or LOTO – is to keep the operatives working on the machine safe for the duration. There are some places where LOTO is a mandatory requirement, and others in which it is part and parcel of company policy, and it is generally an industry standard.
LOTO can apply to a wide variety of equipment and machinery, and while it differs in its specific approach, the basic premise is always the same: lockout-tagout ensures that only one individual is responsible for shutting the power source and other danger sources down, and for reversing the procedure when the required work is done. Let’s talk about how it works.
A Simple Routine
The basis of LOTO lies in putting the focus on one person, so it should be an operative who is experienced with and knowledgeable about the machine in question who is chosen to do the job. This person will remain the sole keyholder, the only person permitted to restart the machine, during the lockout-tagout period. The idea is to isolate the power supply – there is more to it, but we’ll come to that in a moment – to the machine so it cannot operate while the maintenance team are working on it, and it is done as follows:
- Announce the machine is shutting down
- Identify the power source
- Isolate the power source
- Lock and tag the power source
- Check that the machine is inoperable
These steps should be followed in every instance, and the process will be complete. A physical lock needs to be applied to the source of the power – whether it is a mains switch or otherwise – and a tag applied that names the individual responsible. This person must – in all cases – be physically present when the time comes to restart the machine; there can be no telephone over-ride or other form of communication, as this makes the lockout-tagout procedure irrelevant. You can turn to Lockout Safety to learn more about the specifics of the procedure.
Other Points to Consider
One of the factors that makes LOTO so important is that in many areas of industry, a machine can have more than one available power source, and there can be other potential sources of danger for people working on the machine. Many of these may also require isolation, so you need to also consider the following:
- Gases used in the process
- Hot and cold working surfaces
- Hydraulic systems
- Any other electrical sources
- Blades and moving parts
While not a comprehensive list, this is a good selection of the potential problematic areas that can be found in industrial machinery, and that are attended to in the usual lockout-tagout procedure.
Everyone involved in the operation and maintenance of the machinery or equipment concerned should be fully trained in the procedure, in order that each is capable of acting as the responsible individual, so make sure that your training is up to date and that your team understands the LOTO procedure fully.