A workplace accident cannot be undone, and the resulting injury can have lifelong ramifications on those who live to tell the tale. This is certainly the case for Kina Repp, an Ione, Washington-based safety-awareness advocate who speaks at industry events about the importance of safety programs.
Repp went to Alaska in June 1990, the summer between her sophomore and junior college years, to earn her tuition fees in a well-paid job at a fish-processing plant. Within her first hour at work, an accident changed her life forever:she lost her left arm when a co-worker unexpectedly turned on the machine that she was cleaning, pulling her arm into the conveyor.
Several factors led to the incident. The conveyor was turned off, but not locked out, and Repp had not been trained on how to work safely with the equipment. In fact, the business did not have a lockout program in place at the time. The worker who started the machine failed to do a line-of-sight check — a standard restart procedure that involves checking all sides of the machine to ensure that no one is within the danger zone — before hitting the “on” button.
Machine guarding on the in-running nip point would have prevented the accident, but the guarding had been removed because it obstructed the cleaning process necessary to sanitize the conveyor belt on which Repp was working. In addition, an emergency-stop cord running alongside the conveyor leading to an emergency-stop or e-stop switch — a type of control circuitry that immediately interrupts normal machine functioning in an emergency situation, but does not de-energize or address other hazards — could have been pulled to deactivate the equipment. But the e-stop switch, which was uncommon at that time, had not been installed.
“It took just one second, one choice to change everything for me,” says Repp, who has overcome the adversity and earned her degree. “You are responsible for your own safety,” Repp says. “If something seems dangerous, it probably is; don’t do it.”
Making safe choices starts with being aware of the dangers and how to avoid or eliminate them. For those who work with energized equipment, a lockout/tagout program is imperative to prevent serious accidents that could result in maimings and even fatalities.
Numerous Canadian standards require companies to assess workplace hazards, identify skills and equipment needed for employees to perform production or maintenance tasks safely and train workers accordingly. And that responsibility for occupational safety extends from the plant floor to the executive management team.
In Canada, lockout/tagout requirements vary by province. This can be challenging to companies with operations in more than one area. To support these regulations, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) developed CSA Z460 lockout standards for the control of hazardous energy in 2005. Updated in 2008 and 2013, CSA Z460 standards have been adopted by the federal government as “best practices” in worker protection.
The standard defines lockout as the placement of a lock on an energy-isolating device in accordance with an established procedure; likewise its removal. Putting a lockout/tagout program in place is a methodical process that starts with listing energy sources for each machine, such as electricity, mechanics, hydraulics and heat, and determining how to control each source. Control steps will point to the lockout devices required, and employees must be trained in the procedures and use of the devices.
Government- and industry-driven lockout initiatives have yielded positive outcomes, with worker injuries and fatalities having seen a general decline over the years. While the trend is encouraging, accidents continue to occur. In 2009, Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) reported 2,171 lost-time injury claims (LTIs) from workers caught in or compressed by equipment, 427 LTIs from being rubbed or abraded by friction, pressure or jarred by friction and 361 amputations. According to the WSIB’s 2010 data, LTIs involving guarding and lockout rank among the top four causes of injuries, which tend to be more severe.
Statistics from Safe Work Manitoba paint a similar picture. Although 677 workers were caught in objects while 123 were rubbed and abraded in 2014, the province’s total of 722 injuries caused by machinery is a sharp decline from the 1,244 reported in 2000.
While developing an effective lockout program may seem like a daunting task, hazards presented by normal operation can be addressed simply by using barrier guards designed to prevent human access to, or contact with, machine areas such as belts, drive chains, feed rolls and punch presses, when unexpected startup could result in serious or fatal injuries. Guards can be removed for servicing, but the equipment needs to be shut down and locked out.
Barrier guards are fixed safety devices that need to be disassembled in order to gain access. An alternative to preventing inadvertent contact is a safeguarding device, which senses human presence through contact, pressure or interruption. Examples of safeguarding devices include interlocked movable barrier guards and two-hand controls.
An interlocked barrier guard is a fixed or movable barrier guard attached and interlocked in such a manner that the machine tool will not cycle, or continue to cycle, unless the guard itself or its hinged or movable section encloses the hazardous area. Two-hand controls are actuation devices that require the concurrent use of both hands to start and maintain the cycle of equipment. The operation stops if one or both hands are removed, thereby preventing any part of the operator’s body from coming into contact with the hazardous area during the cycle.
Newer-generation, control-reliable safeguards include interlocked safety switches and electronic, human-presence-sensing devices like light curtains, lasers and pressure-sensitive mats. Interlocked safety switches monitor the position of a guard or gate and are designed to block machine function by affecting control circuitry without shutting off power to the equipment when the guard is open. Electronic sensors can automatically stop a machine if a worker steps on a mat or reaches in and breaks a light curtain beam. Activating an e-stop can also stop the machine, but it is important to bear in mind that operators who routinely use e-stops as on/off switches can cause the switches’ failure in an emergency.
There are also more advanced safety systems that can integrate flexible protections and controls into production lines to slow down machines safely for maintenance, rather than stopping and restarting them.
Regardless of the safety mechanisms that are available, dangers cannot be engineered out completely. As such, it is important to educate workers and provide instructions and tools for them to work safely. The top six factors contributing to serious injuries and fatalities arising from the lack of a lockout/tagout program are the failure to do the following:
— Stop equipment;
— Disconnect equipment from its power source;
— Secure or lockout equipment during servicing;
— Dissipate residual energy;
— Clear a work area before restarting equipment; and
— Restart equipment by accident.
A Collaborative Effort
Putting together a functional and compliant safety program can be time-consuming. Safety managers need to devote enough time, attention and expertise to the process by involving key production and maintenance personnel. Alternatively, they can hire external specialists or consultants with the required experience and knowledge.
Over the years, observations have been made that excellent programs are often developed in-house, with selective assistance from external safety professionals who can assess current lockout/tagout status and needs, prioritize key areas on which to focus, flesh out the program and provide initial employee training. This “best-of-both-worlds” method can jumpstart a program and establish a foundation for easy updates to meet changing needs. It also involves an organization’s entire team and helps to ensure buy-in and implementation.
Various firms offer software or real-time programs that can speed up the preparation of lockout/tagout procedures. More importantly, they improve instructional accuracy and lockout effectiveness. By using a tablet or a similar device, companies can gather details for each machine on the plant floor by inputting the machine number, getting a description of the machine and taking photographs of each lockout point to identify it visually for each step in the procedure. In this way, energy sources, control methods and specific lockout steps are captured for daily use and can be easily updated.
Even in companies with established programs, lockout procedures may sometimes be overlooked or ignored, especially when workers have to conduct brief servicing. Time and production pressures, lack of training and monitoring, employees who are eager to prove themselves, complacent veteran workers and even the lack of a prior accident could all pave the way to an incident down the road.
As well, it is not uncommon for workers to perceive lockout activities separately from, or as an adjunct to, the production process and that lockout is between them and a machine. Repp’s experience is a cautionary tale illustrating that this perception cannot be further from the truth. The choices that an employee makes can have a great impact on co-workers and their families and friends. Normalizing lockout as a routine process in daily production can correct misconceptions and increase compliance. At the end of the day, lockout/tagout is more than just locking out machines; it is protecting the very people who work on them.
If there is one piece of advice Repp has to offer, it is that no job, paycheck or deadline is worth any part of one’s body. Safety should never be an afterthought, because as Repp says, “the day that changes your life starts out like any other day.”
Matt Dudgeon is director of product marketing for the safety business with The Master Lock Company.