The Importance of Lockout/Tagout

We frequently use our blog to highlight OSHA citations resulting from accidents and injuries related to problems with electrical safety. Many of the incidents we have highlighted in this space could have been completely avoided. Unfortunately, they occurred because employers failed to follow, or failed to require that their employees follow, some fairly simple safety procedures.

In this post, I want to highlight OSHA’s “Standard for The Control of Hazardous Energy” (Lockout/Tagout) (29 CFR 1910.147), which outlines measures for controlling electrical hazards, and I will then – once again – cite specific examples where employers failed to adequately protect their employees.

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According to OSHA, failure to control hazardous energy accounts for nearly 10 percent of the serious accidents in many industries. Employers can reduce the likelihood of an incident – and therefore their risk and potential financial liability – by providing training about and requiring the use of, proper lockout/tagout (LOTO) practices and procedures.

The need to lockout/tagout equipment is often overlooked during servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment. To be blunt, it is downright stupid to think that one can safely service an energized machine. Even the simple, 90-second task of manually clearing out an obstruction can result in electrocution, amputation or death if a machine is not properly de-energized for the task.

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So, what does the Standard require of employers? Rather than attempt to highlight its main points here, I’ll direct you to the OSHA Fact Sheet on the issue, since it does a great job of summarizing and simplifying the standard. If you wish, you can read the entire document.

The bottom line is that the burden rests on employers to: a) have policies and procedures in place; b) train their employees and temporary workers in those policies and procedures, and c) ensure that all personnel adhere to those policies and procedures. Employers who fail in any of these are subjecting themselves to potentially large penalties and, ultimately, great legal liability.

Now for some of OSHA’s recent citations:

Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc.
Earlier this month, OSHA proposed fines of more than $1.7 million against Ashley Furniture Industries, Inc., for more than 1,000 worker injuries in the past three years. While not all of the injuries were electrical in nature, Ashley was cited numerous times for failure to implement electrical safety procedures that could have kept machines from starting while being serviced.

For example, one citation reads, “energy isolation devices are not utilized while the machine operators perform servicing tasks including but not limited to cutting head changes and job setup.” Another says, “lockout or tagout devices are not applied to isolate all energy sources while the machine operators perform servicing tasks including but not limited to cutting head changes and job setup.” And another refers to Ashley’s failure to train employees: “…employee(s) do not receive training in the recognition of applicable hazardous energy sources, the type and magnitude of the energy available in the workplace, and the methods and means necessary for energy isolation and control.” Each of these examples points up the need for employers to lead their employees in every area of workplace safety.

As a result of its repeated violations, Ashley Furniture has been added to OSHA’s Serious Violator Enforcement Program. Read the OSHA news release. Read the entire citation.

WKW Erbsloeh North America, Inc.
In January, OSHA – which inspected a facility after a worker fell into a tank filled with acid – proposed fines of $177,000 against WKW Erbsloeh North America Inc. of Pell City, Alabama. During its investigation of the acid incident, OSHA found two electrical violations: failure to ensure that machinery would not start up while workers performed machine maintenance and service, and failure to train workers on how to prevent accidental startup.

WKW was cited previously for similar violations in March 2010, meaning these were both repeat violations. Read the OSHA news release. Read the entire citation.

Employers should heed the warning: If an incident – whether electrical or not – were to happen in your facility, you can rest assured that OSHA will come knocking. And they will find other violations if they exist. Better to prevent the issue altogether by implementing a comprehensive workplace safety plan than to deal with the effects of negligence. Ignorance is no excuse.

Mitchell & Lindsey can help. Give us a call today for a free consultation.

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