Every employer has a basic duty of care to ensure that the workplace is a safe place to be. Health and Safety regulations and procedures exist for this very reason, and while we may not like some of the results, we should remember that these rules are there to keep us safe and minimise the risk of injury – or worse. In industry, where there is often potentially dangerous machinery or equipment in use, such Health and Safety regulations are especially important, and should be adhered to carefully and strictly.
One area that requires special attention is that of the servicing and maintenance of equipment and machinery. As this generally requires engineers to be dealing with the machinery when switched off, it is vital that they can be sure the machine cannot be operated while they are at work. This is why the lockout/tagout procedure – or LOTO – is widespread in industry across the world.
In fact, in some countries lockout-tagout is mandated by law, while many areas of industry have it as an industry standard, so let’s have a closer look at what it is, and why you need to be aware of it and how it works.
The basic idea behind the lockout-tagout procedure is to ensure that the machine to be serviced, or that needs maintenance, cannot in any circumstances be made to operate while those doing the work are in place. This extends beyond, it should be said, the primary power source, and can also apply to internal operations of the machine such as hydraulic systems, pneumatics and even kinetic areas involving, for example, springs.
The procedure works by making one operative essentially responsible for implementing the lockout-tagout procedure. This person becomes the key-holder, the only person permitted to restart the power source, and in most – if not all – cases, they must be physically present to bring the LOTO procedure to a close. There are five main steps to implementing LOTO:
1: Announce shut down – everyone involved should be aware of what is about to happen at all times.
2: Identify the power source – this could include more than one, so the chosen operative needs to be someone with full familiarity with the machine and how it works.
3: Isolate the energy sources – there will be a set way of doing this successfully, and this method should be the one that is used – if you need special equipment, turn to Substation Safety.
4: Lock and tag the energy sources – a physical lock should be placed on the on/off for the source, a tag applied with the name of the keyholder, and the key kept by the keyholder.
5: Prove that the isolation routine has been effective
The final stage above is one of the most important, as it shows all who are involved that the machine cannot be restarted without the intervention of the keyholder.
Danger Sources for Isolation
It is perhaps best to refer to energy sources, rather than power sources, in terms of LOTO, as there may be more than merely the primary power source that needs to be isolated. For example, a machine may use dangerous gases that the maintenance crew should not come into contact with, there may be very hot or extremely cold surfaces that need to be brought to room temperature, and there may be parts that are free-hanging that can be dangerous if not attended to properly.
With proper training, and understanding of what is required, the lockout-tagout routine provides the perfect solution and the ultimate level of safety when it comes to maintenance and servicing in industry, so check that your LOTO routine is up to date, and that everybody has been suitably trained.