OSHA may be taking a second look at how it oversees lockout/tagout regulations. The agency is considering potential alternatives to the current lockout/tagout standard, which has not kept up with the latest technology.
In a nutshell, alternative methods have been devised to better ensure workers are protected from any source of hazardous energy (electrical, hydraulic, mechanical, pneumatic, thermal, and others). The process of controlling hazardous energy prevents approximately 50,000 injuries and 120 fatalities annually.
In recent years, equipment manufacturers have married computer-based lockout/tagout controls into their latest designs. They have been proven to be effective in protecting workers from potential hazards, yet they don’t meet the requirements of the existing OSHA lockout/tagout standard. The key issue is that the OSHA standard has not kept pace with these technological advancements.
OSHA is currently working to document the strengths and limitations of lockout/tagout technology and will then decide if regulations should be revisited.
The basics of lockout/tagout
OSHA’s lockout/tagout standard has remained stagnant since 1989, but obviously, technology designed to better protect workers has not.
Traditionally, physical locks and tags removed only by “authorized employees” have been the standard control measure to prevent the unexpected startup of machinery being serviced or repaired.
In contrast, the American National Standards Institute/American Society of Safety Engineers (ANSI/ASSE) standard has been updated every five years since 1982, based upon technological advances in controlling machinery and hazardous energy. OSHA has recently reported an increase in requests for variances that would allow using high-tech alternative controls.
In the past, OSHA has claimed that the revised industry standard would not provide protections to workers as effective as those in its federal standard. But, the consensus of the industry, and even international standards, recognize the adoption of lockout/tagout technology is viable for safeguarding workers.
OSHA regulations are not likely to change quickly, however. Employers should ensure their current lockout/tagout procedures and programs are fully compliant with the existing standard.
- Develop, document, implement, and enforce energy-control procedures. Do not be resistant to changes in technology.
- Use lockout/tagout devices that are durable, standardized, and failsafe.
- Ideally, vehicle-monitoring software should be capable of locking a vehicle from use after it fails a safety-checklist item or is involved in an impact.
- Ensure that lockout/tagout devices identify individual users.
- Establish a policy and use a telematics platform that permits only qualified employees to remove or unlock equipment.
- Provide effective training for all employees covered by the standard.
Failing to use a lockout is one of OSHA’s most cited safety violations, resulting in the organization collecting more than $7.7 million in associated penalties each year.
Appropriate lockout/tagout measures, reinforced by a telematics system, is essential for safety and to alert employees when certain equipment is temporarily out of service and even to prevent such equipment from starting.