The federal government’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issues regulations and directives focused on keeping American workers safe and free from harm on the job.
OSHA regulations are particularly relevant in industries involving practices that could be dangerous, like when workers interact with hazardous energy sources. These interactions often occur when workers service or maintain machines or equipment requiring an ample amount of energy to operate.
“Lockout / Tagout,” commonly referred to as LOTO, is an OSHA regulation created to deal with hazardous energy sources. Here, we’ll explain lockout/tagout procedures, what they mean for employees, and what can happen when employers don’t adequately follow the LOTO regulations.
What is Hazardous Energy?
OSHA defines hazardous energy as any energy type that is dangerous to workers upon direct exposure. More specifically, OSHA lists electrical energy, hydraulic energy, pneumatic energy, chemical energy, and thermal energy on its website as sources of hazardous energy. Large machinery and equipment in many industries across the country use hazardous energy to function.
When large pieces of machinery are serviced or maintained, they can release hazardous energy, which can be potentially life-threatening. In addition to electrocution, hazardous energy release can cause burns, cuts, fractures, and other types of serious bodily injury. Hazardous energy releases can also take the form of steam valve releases, leading to burns. Other unexpected energy releases within a machine, like Hydraulic releases, can lead to broken bones.
Lockout / tagout procedures were created to ensure that unexpected hazardous energy releases do not occur and that worker injuries are avoided.
Lockout / Tagout Regulations and LOTO Procedure
Lockout / tagout regulations are recorded within the Code of Federal Regulations at 29 C.F.R. Part 1910.147 and also summarized on an OSHA-issued fact sheet. Lockout / tagout procedures require a piece of equipment or machinery to be fully shut down, and “locked out” to prevent anyone from using that machinery while it is serviced.
What is Lockout / Tagout?
The LOTO procedure outlines steps to follow to ensure that machinery does not accidentally restart during repair or standard maintenance.
The regulations provide that employers must develop an “energy control program” to ensure that workers are fully protected. Rather than prescribe specific steps, the regulations allow employers the freedom to develop their own policies, so long as those policies comply with minimum safety standards established by OSHA. As stated by OSHA’s Fact Sheet, “this is generally done by affixing the appropriate lockout or tagout devices . . . and by de-energizing machines and equipment.”
Lockout / Tagout Devices
The lockout / tagout devices are used to lock the machinery. After a machine is powered off, a lockout device is physically applied to the power switch. Lockout devices resemble a padlock and ensure that a power switch cannot be turned on by anyone without a key. Next, a tag is affixed to the lockout device, listing why the machine is locked out and who ordered it locked out. The tag warns employees not to turn the power back on for any reason.
Lastly, the regulations require a company to educate its workers on lockout / tagout procedures. In an ideal world, lockout / tagout procedures would always be followed, and injuries avoided. Unfortunately, LOTO regulations are often not followed, and workers are frequently injured because of lockout / tagout violations and subsequent exposure to hazardous energy.
Examples of Lockout / Tagout Procedures
As previously stated, OSHA regulations allow individual businesses to design their lockout / tagout procedures in the ways that best fit their internal policies and procedures. Due to this flexibility in policy, lockout / tagout procedures will vary from business to business. The following is a list of recommended lockout / tagout steps provided by the State of Ohio.
- Provide all maintenance personnel with a lockout device that has the maintenance worker’s name and identification. Each lockout device should only have one key held by the maintenance worker who has the lock.
- Before powering off the machine, the maintenance worker should verify that no one is operating the machinery.
- Steam, air, and hydraulic lines should be released and cleaned out, ensuring no pressure buildups are present.
- Every worker actively servicing a machine should place a lock on the machine – meaning there should be multiple lockout/tagout devices for multiple workers.
- Lockout devices should be attached to all energy sources that could activate a machine.
Lockout / Tagout Noncompliance and Violations
Unfortunately, lockout / tagout violations are in the top 10 most frequently violated regulations, according to a list compiled annually by OSHA. A 2008 study of workplace fatalities involving hazardous energy revealed that in 60 percent of fatal incidents, lockout / tagout procedures weren’t in place. When companies fail to comply with lockout / tagout regulations, worker safety is directly impacted.
According to the same study, the most common types of injuries sustained from lockout / tagout violations are electrocution, blunt force trauma, and body parts caught in the equipment. Injuries like these are often life-threatening and can cause lifelong disabilities and after-effects for survivors.
Personal Injury Lawsuits for Lockout / Tagout Injuries
When a company fails to comply with OSHA regulations and protect its workers, it opens itself up to legal liability for injuries sustained by its employees. Given that lockout / tagout injuries are so severe and preventable, they often result in personal injury lawsuits.
Generally speaking, the law allows accident victims to recover compensation for their injuries if the victim’s injuries were caused by another person or entity’s negligence. When a company violates safety regulations and fails to protect its workers from foreseeable harm, the company is negligent and should be held accountable for its wrongdoing.
Contact a Texas Lockout / Tagout Injury Attorney Today
Our team at Slack Davis Sanger has been assisting Texas workers who have been seriously injured on the job for almost 20 years. Our experience in personal injury cases leads us to aggressively advocate for our clients, and our knowledge of OSHA regulations enables us to do so. If you or a loved one find yourself injured in a lockout / tagout incident, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.
We’re ready to assist you. Contact us today to set up a free consultation on your prospective case.