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Ensuring Safety Through Lockout / Tagout Procedures

Lockout/Tagout is also known as LOTO and is a general term used to define the safety methods for isolating machinery, plant and equipment where energy is created, stored or used. If the safety precautions aren’t implemented, fatal accidents or serious injuries can happen whilst the machinery is being maintained, inspected, repaired or serviced.

Understanding Lockout / Tagout

LOTO involves the isolation of energy sources, such as electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, or any other source that could potentially cause unexpected startup, release of stored energy, or movement of machinery during maintenance. This process includes:

  • Identification and Isolation: Before any maintenance activity begins, all energy sources related to the machinery or equipment must be identified. This involves shutting off the energy sources and physically isolating them using lockout devices.
  • Lockout: Once the energy sources are isolated, lockout devices, typically padlocks or lockout tags, are applied to the isolation points. These locks serve as a physical barrier, preventing the accidental or unauthorised re-energisation of equipment.
  • Tagout: In conjunction with lockout, tags are used to provide additional warning and information about the status of the machinery. Tags display critical details like the reason for lockout, the name of the authorised personnel, and the expected duration of the lockout.

Risks and Hazards

During machinery maintenance, servicing, repair or inspection, there are numerous risks and hazards that could transpire. The main ones are:

  • Moving parts of industrial plants and machines – examples are the moving parts of plants, mixers of tanks, and conveyor systems.
  • Electrical risks – electrical conductors that are assumed ‘dead’ can become live when worked on, causing burns or electric shocks.
  • Stored energy – hydraulic, mechanical, pneumatic or steam energy needs to be de-energised before work begins; if not, it can release the energy during the work, resulting in accidents including burns, scalds and being trapped between parts of the machine.
  • Asphyxiation, entrapment or suffocation – can be caused by the sudden discharge of material into an area where maintenance work is being carried out.

Others include:

  • Heavy items falling – including dislodged plants and disconnected parts of machines.
  • Falling from height – this can be prevented by using physical protection such as platforms, guardrails and toe boards. 
  • Materials containing asbestos – filters and gaskets in older plant machinery may still contain asbestos, and building structures may have sprayed asbestos coating on steelwork or pipes, lagging, and insulation boards.
  • Lack of training/supervision/instructions – includes work carried out by direct employees and contractors.

Importance of LOTO Procedures

The primary objective of LOTO procedures is to protect workers from hazardous energy sources. Failure to implement proper LOTO procedures can lead to severe injuries or fatalities caused by unexpected machinery startup, electric shocks, or exposure to hazardous materials.

LOTO also helps in:

  • Compliance and Regulations: Numerous regulatory bodies mandate the implementation of LOTO procedures to ensure workplace safety. Compliance with these regulations not only protects workers but also avoids legal repercussions for the organisation.
  • Preventing Accidents: LOTO procedures significantly reduce the risk of accidents during maintenance or repair work, safeguarding both the workers and the equipment from damage.
  • Enhancing Safety Culture: Prioritising LOTO fosters a culture of safety within the organisation. It promotes awareness among workers about the potential dangers associated with machinery and encourages them to adhere to safety protocols.

Implementing Effective LOTO Procedures

To achieve the most effective form of LOTO procedures requires a comprehensive approach, and the following should be a main focus for your organisation:

  • Training and Education: Proper training and education programmes must be in place to familiarise employees with LOTO procedures. Workers should understand the importance of LOTO, know how to identify energy sources, and be trained on the correct application of lockout devices.
  • Regular Inspections and Reviews: Periodic inspections should be conducted to ensure that LOTO procedures are being followed correctly. Additionally, reviews of the LOTO programme should be carried out to identify areas for improvement.
  • Documentation and Communication: Detailed documentation of LOTO procedures and clear communication among employees are crucial. This includes maintaining records of lockout/tagout activities and ensuring that information about ongoing maintenance work is communicated effectively across teams.

Conclusion

Lockout / Tagout procedures are indispensable for ensuring the safety of workers and preventing accidents in industrial settings. By implementing robust LOTO protocols, organisations not only protect their employees but also uphold regulatory compliance and foster a culture of safety within their workplaces.

Ready to find out how you can implement LOTO within your organisation?

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