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The Lowdown on Lockouts


Routine maintenance, repair, setup and clearing clogged or misaligned feeds are among a host of reasons why workers remove barrier guards to get up close and personal with machinery and equipment. Having a proper lockout/tagout program is key to preventing accidents when performing any of the above tasks.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety in Hamilton, Ontario, management, supervisors and workers all have a responsibility in a lockout program. In general, management is responsible for the following: drafting, periodically reviewing and updating a written lockout program; identifying employees, machines, equipment and a process for inclusion in a lockout program; providing protective equipment, hardware and appliances; and monitoring and measuring conformance.

The supervisors’ role is to distribute protective equipment and ensure its proper use among workers. They are also responsible for establishing equipment-specific procedures in their respective areas and ensuring that only fully-trained employees perform maintenance or service requiring lockout and follow proper procedures.

Employees contribute to their own safety by helping to develop and execute equipment-specific procedures, reporting problems relating to procedures, equipment or lockout/tagout processes and following lockout procedures.

Hazards come in many forms, and best practices for controlling hazardous energy are detailed in CSA Z460. While primary energy sources can usually be identified, virtually all machines retain residual, stored energy after being shut down. If not dissipated, energy from these sources can pose a hidden danger to workers performing maintenance or other tasks.

Hidden-energy hazards highlight the importance of performing control-panel testing as a final step in locking out any machine. To validate that a piece of equipment has been properly locked out, try operating it after it has been shut down and de-energized. If the machine moves or displays any other operation, the operator might have made an error, such as locking out the wrong power source or missing a step.

This is where specific and detailed lockout instructions comes into good use. Instead of giving general instructions to turn off electrical power or throw the breaker switch, a lockout/tagout procedure should provide step-by-step guidance by referring to the specific labels on the breaker, for example “Go to Panel 7, breaker #4 — AG601; move it to the off position and secure with a safety padlock.”

As companies develop or upgrade their lockout/tagout programs, they can tap on various sources for information and ideas, such as networking with safety professionals in other firms and seeing how their lockout/tagout programs work. Other options include joining and attending the meetings and seminars of local safety councils and organizations, and contacting local provincial/territorial government agencies for guidance.

Todd Grover, global senior manager of applied safety solutions with Master Lock Company, recommends the following measures through which both new and established lockout programs can be more consistently applied to ensure a safer workplace:

— Normalize lockout: Incorporate equipment shutdown and lockout as a single, routine step in daily production processes. The more often workers perform lockout, the less time it takes them to do it and the more proficient they become.

— Provide ready access: Give employees immediate access to lockout instructions and devices to minimize the effort required on their part. For example, having to make a round trip to get locks and devices needed to perform lockout and fix equipment can result in unsafe behaviour on workers’ part, such as cutting corners.

— Regard lockout as a safety measure: Foster the perception of lockout/tagout as a means of protecting people from machinery and equipment, rather than as a technical procedure.

— Establish a mentoring program: Select employees who are familiar with lockout to serve as resource persons who can train and mentor others, provide tips and answer questions relating to lockout/tagout.

— Verify instructions with users: Have a worker read and carry out the lockout/tagout procedures. In the process of doing so, the worker may uncover vague information or even errors, which can be corrected and verified.

— Validate effective lockout: After a machine has been shut down, go to the control panel and try operating it in various ways. If it does not move or generate any energy flow, it is safe for workers to perform the necessary maintenance work on it. Validating that a machine has been effectively locked out is the final and most important step when shutting down a machine.

Matt Dudgeon is director of product marketing for the safety business with The Master Lock Company.