Health and Safety in the workplace is one of those areas that is often subject to ridicule. Of course, things were not so strict in years gone by, and rules and regulations can make things more difficult at times, but we have to remember that all those rules and regulations are there for our own good.
Accidents do happen – especially in the workplace – and it is the duty of every employer to make sure the risk of such is minimised. This means putting into place procedures that, in some cases, might appear to be cumbersome and time-consuming, bit that are in fact sensible and important.
Where the operation of heavy machinery is concerned, safety and care is of paramount importance, and the same is true when the maintenance and servicing of equipment is required. This is why you need to implement lockout-tagout procedures, and in many cases, this is actually a legal requirement.
What is lockout-tagout, and when are such procedures used? Let’s have a look in more detail at what it’s all about.
What is Lockout/Tagout
The primary objective of lockout-tagout is safety, and it is also a very important security procedure. It aims to ensure that a machine, equipment or heavy plant can on no occasion be operated – or even switched on – by anyone other than an authorised person. In many factories, lockout-tagout – or LOTO – is used as a routine to ensure that maintenance or servicing of a machine can be carried out safely.
LOTO works to a routine that needs to be strictly adhered to, and in the case of a shut-down for maintenance, follows this five-step format, which we will explain in a moment:
- Announce shut down
- Locate power source
- Isolate power source
- Lock and tag power source
- Prove machine is immobilised
The announcement is so that those involved know what is about to happen. In some machines there are procedures that need to be carried out in advance of a shut-down, perhaps to release residual energy, and these must be followed. Locating the power source is vital as there may be more than one; some larger machines use more than one energy source to operate correctly.
Isolating the power is about switching it off, whether a mains supply or otherwise, and now we come to the important bit – tagging.
Locking is often done by bespoke locking devices designed for specific switching systems, and the tag will contain the details and name of the operator who performed the shut-down. This person is solely responsible for restarting the machine, and only when they are sure that it is safe to do so. Permission must not be given over the phone or by any other means – they must be there in person. This is crucial to the effective operation of a lockout/tagout procedure. Special equipment is also often used for LOTO procedures – and you can turn to Substation Safety for more information.
Other Danger Sources
There are other areas of machinery where the lockout-tagout routine may be useful and aid safety. Perhaps you have machinery that uses very hot or extremely cold surfaces that need stabilising before maintenance. Or, you might have a machine that uses certain gases, or liquids, that could be dangerous to touch or inhale. These are primary areas for LOTO procedures.
It is essential that you have a team of experienced machine operators who are fully trained and experienced in the LOTO procedure, and who are happy to take on the responsibility of being a designated keyholder. This is one of the most important jobs in terms of effective health and safety in the workplace, so make sure you choose and train your team well.