By Stenning Schueppert, Total Safety Senior VP—Stratgety, Marketing & Corporate Development
For those responsible for personnel safety during a shutdown procedure (that’s everyone), this is for you. For those unfamiliar with lockout/tagout (LOTO) regulations, you should be aware of current deficiencies within our industry regarding the topic, as well as potential corrective actions that should be taken tomorrow to improve safety within your facility.
The three most common LOTO problems are lack of proper procedures, lack of adequate training and improper tag use. If our industry steps back to investigate these issues, we will note proper procedures and training have less correlation with team members not following protocol but more to do with companies failing to provide personnel with the knowledge, training, systems and support they need to protect their own safety and, ultimately, the safety of the people and assets around them.
How can safety issues with such directly addressable solutions survive? We should more proactively highlight and address this concern and, to influence better behavior, we should first address opinion: injuries—and even fatalities—have occurred from not sticking to LOTO procedures. A fatality in June related to improper blinding procedures at a downstream facility is similar: small missteps, material risk. The hazardous environments we work in daily are respected; the safety procedures within those environments need to be treated with that same level of respect.
The lack of procedures and training may lead to the third problem—improper tag use. But Keith Davis, president of Application Factory, noted these needless incidents “occur for a variety of reasons, such as lack of understanding about what needs to be tagged, or the inevitability of human error.” Human error can be minimized with clear and concise LOTO procedures and systems in place and, coupled with sufficient training, companies can successfully rectify this safety gap.
While the above solution sounds ideal, it may not be. An unfortunately common and growing problem is workers are provided with general LOTO training on the job, but the procedures (or lack thereof) fail to address all safety aspects to do it effectively. Like the use of locks to ensure the energy sources (and not just electricity) remain disconnected; the disconnect locations for the energy sources, the procedures for bleeding, blocking and verifying energy sources have been rendered safe; clearly labeling each lock with a durable tag (or durable label or marking) to identify the worker assigned to a lock that is used to secure an energy control device; and more.
Once developed, consistent reinforcement of the facility’s procedures is certainly a great way to keep the message of LOTO safety in the forefront of workers’ minds. Another improvement would be to create a balance between man and technology; the industry is finally evolving from traditional handwritten tags to automated LOTO solutions even a novice can operate as they are engineered specifically to prevent human error.
But it is not just up to management, HSE or maintenance to keep personnel safe.
Team members must be proactive themselves during LOTO by:
Following the regulations in the employer’s hazardous energy control program.
Completing all employer-provided training on hazardous energy control procedures.
Ensuring, before beginning any adjustment, maintenance or servicing work, all sources of hazardous energy are de-energized; all forms of hazardous energy, including electrical breaker panels and control valves are properly locked and tagged; and all stored energy sources are blocked or dissipated.
Verifying only one key exists for each of your assigned locks and only you hold that key.
Testing and/or observing all energy sources are de-energized.
Keeping those principles at the forefront of your mind will provide the greatest reward of all—having everyone return home safely after each and every shift.