Machinery does not care. If a worker incurs an injury, the machinery plugs along as it always has — while the worker’s life is changed forever.
Failure to properly control hazardous energy is a leading cause of serious accidents and injuries in the electrical industry. As a result, organizations, such as OSHA, enact laws and regulations to protect workers and improve workplace safety.
Two of the most frequent safety issues each year are lockout-tagout (LOTO) and electrical wiring violations, which are both continuously cited in the top 10 OSHA violations. To decrease those violations, plant managers can take steps to avoid common electrical wiring mistakes and follow the LOTO standard created by OSHA to prevent the unexpected energization, or start-up, of machinery and equipment prior to the completion of maintenance or repair work.
Energy sources in machines and equipment pose a serious threat to workers. LOTO is a process of steps and safety practices meant to control hazardous energy while a technician performs service or maintenance on machinery. The procedure works to guard against unexpected machinery startups.
Failure to control hazardous energy can result in serious injury or even death — everything from electrocution and burns to fractured body parts is possible. For example, if the internal wiring electrically shorts during equipment repair, the worker will get shocked. In an industry where 10 percent of serious accidents are caused by improper control of hazardous energy, workers lose an average of 24 days to recovery.
Know How To LOTO
Instating proper LOTO practices ensures your workers are protected while performing maintenance procedures on equipment. The LOTO standard is not typically required during normal production operations; however, it is necessary when a worker will be exposed to hazards — such as when removing or bypassing machine guards or when the worker must place their body in contact with the point of operation or a dangerous operating zone.
So, what’s the difference between lockout and tagout? It’s just like it sounds — a lockout involves a locking device, while a tagout uses a tag. Lockout procedures mandate applying a secured lockout device, such as a valve, on an energy isolating device, while tagout involves applying a prominent warning tag on energy isolating devices.
Workers must be trained on LOTO procedures and certified as an “authorized employee” to apply LOTO measures on machines. These are typically the workers who would be performing the maintenance or service on the equipment. Workers who are not fully trained to apply LOTO procedures are dubbed “affected employees” and often are the operators of the machinery affected by the maintenance or service.
Improper wiring and faulty connections is at the root of many OSHA violations. Due to the dynamic and rugged nature of industrial environments, the everyday use of electrical devices causes wear and tear that results in insulation breaks, short-circuits and exposed wires. Spotting and addressing deteriorating devices can protect workers and prevent an electrical hazard from developing. Typical indicators of a faulty connection include bent prongs on receptacle blades, worn power cords, bad connectors, improperly grounded cable management trays and visual signs of corrosion.
Another way to ensure safety is by checking that electrical devices are utilizing products and technology that support ground fault protection. Without this protection, a ground fault could send a potentially fatal electrical current through a worker’s body. This can be prevented with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) device designed to help keep workers safe from electrical shocks by monitoring the electrical current and shutting off power when a ground fault is detected. For industrial facilities, it is important to look for GFCI devices that are developed to withstand wet and corrosive indoor and outdoor environments.
To perform a lockout, there are several types of energy isolation devices that can be deployed. A safety switch can turn the flow of electricity to certain equipment on and off, and some machines are equipped with a padlock to meet LOTO requirements. Ground continuity monitoring plugs can also be useful, especially those that provide proper ground indication, such as using LED lights, to ensure proper wiring. Mechanical interlocks that control the flow of energy to one device at a time are also a good option when considering LOTO procedures.
No matter what energy isolation device you choose to use to control the energy flow to your machinery, it must be placed in the “off” position and locked before any maintenance is performed on the equipment.
Potential electrical hazards exist in nearly every workplace. It’s simply part of the landscape but can also be just as easily avoided. Encouraging safety best practices, such as the LOTO procedure and proper electrical wiring, is an important step in any routine. It can increase productivity, reduce downtime and avoid expenses accrued due to an accident. Not to mention, it is yet another important precaution you can take to make sure your workers return home safe to their families.
Jeff Seabury is industrial product manager at Legrand.