Untold numbers of on-the-job injuries and deaths could be avoided through properly isolating hazardous energy. Lock out tag out (LOTO) is a common practice used in industrial settings and is intended to reduce the risk of injury due to machinery or equipment starting unexpectedly. OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is very specific regarding lock out tag out procedures. The requirements of the Control of Hazardous Energy can be found in Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1910.147.
The lockout/tagout procedures set forth establish the employer’s responsibility to protect workers from hazardous energy. Employers are also required to train each worker to ensure that they know, understand, and are able to follow the applicable provisions of the hazardous energy control procedures. Failure to enact or enforce lockout/tagout procedures are some of the most commonly cited OSHA violations in the industrial setting.
More importantly, failure to properly enact and enforce lockout/tagout procedures can lead to serious injury and death. Failure to control hazardous energy accounts for nearly 10% of the serious accidents in industry according to OSHA.
OSHA defines lockout/tagout as a specific practice and procedure to safeguard employees from the unexpected energization or startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities. The first step in setting lockout/tagout procedures is identifying hazardous energy sources.
Hazardous energy sources can take many forms. The most common are electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal or other sources that can cause machines and equipment to move. Once the hazardous energy source has been identified, it is imperative to set a plan of action to de-energize and mitigate that hazard.
Specifically, OSHA requires three things that an employer must do as part of an energy-control plan.
- The employer must establish energy control procedures for removing the energy supply from machines and for putting appropriate lockout/tagout devices on the energy-isolating devices to prevent unexpected reenergization. This requires that the machinery or equipment is disconnected from the energy source by isolating the energy to prevent the release of hazardous energy. Lockout devices hold energy-isolation devices in a safe or off position. The devices are positive restraints that can only be removed with a key or unlocking mechanism.
- The employer must train employees on the energy-control program, including the safe application, use and removal of energy controls.
- The employer must inspect these procedures at least once per year to ensure that they are being followed and that they remain effective in preventing employees’ exposure to hazardous energy.
All employers requiring employees to work around energized equipment should follow OSHA guidelines for lock out tag out to ensure the safety of their employees. If that is not enough incentive, OSHA citations and fines are another motivating force. OSHA fines for failing to follow lockout/tagout procedures can range from minor warnings, all the way to criminal charges and major fines.
For example, OSHA may cite an employer for a “de minimis” violation if it is found that an OSHA regulation is violated, but it does not directly impact safety. A de minimis violation does not come with a fine, or even a written citation. Typically, an OSHA inspector that notes de minimis violations will simply inform the employer.
The next level of citation is the “other than serious” violation. This is an unsafe condition that has little chance to cause harm or injury. These will often result in written warnings.
The next rung on the OSHA citation ladder is a “serious violation.” When an OSHA inspector notes a violation of a specific OSHA standard and considers the violation to possibly lead to harm or death, the citation is noted as serious and the fine can be up to $70,000 depending on how egregious the violation is.
Finally, there are repeated serious violations and willful violations at the top end of the spectrum. Willful lockout/tagout violations can lead to fines between $250,000-$500,000 and potentially even result in criminal charges.
Employers have an obligation to understand the OSHA regulations regarding hazardous energy control and lock out tag out. If they fail to follow these standards, they can be subject to serious fines, criminal penalties, and loss of human life.
If you have any questions, contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our Personal Injury & Products Liability Section. Evan, who is now in our Mobile office, handles workplace litigation nationwide involving serious injuries and death for the firm.
This story appears in the December 2020 issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like this, visit the Report online and subscribe.