Controlling hazardous energy in the workplace is an ongoing challenge for many employers. Failure to control hazardous energy accounts for nearly 10 percent of the serious accidents in many industries.
Workers servicing or maintaining machines or equipment can be seriously injured or killed if hazardous energy is not properly controlled. Injuries – sometimes fatal – resulting from the failure to control hazardous energy can include electrocution, burns, crush injuries, cuts, lacerations, amputations or fractures. Skilled workers, electricians, machine operators and laborers are among the 3 million workers who service equipment routinely, and face the greatest risk of injury. Workers injured on the job from exposure to hazardous energy, lose an average of 24 workdays for recuperation..
Technology found in machinery being manufactured today has advanced. The traditional approach to lockout/tagout – completely shutting down machinery – might not be the best option for some of today’s equipment, or for some of the operations maintenance personnel and operators perform. Companies building and selling these machines have the capability to make machines that are easy to lock out.
Lockout, in its essence, is a procedural or administration step in the hierarchy of controls. Its effectiveness is dependent on employers and workers. An engineering control, through machine design and manufacturer-installed series of highly sophisticated interlocks, that have self-monitoring and multiple energy sources not dependent on decisions made by employers and workers, is reflective of the current capacity of machine manufacturers.
In reality, only one out of 10 employers has what is a “credible” lockout program that goes beyond simple compliance. Another 60 percent of employers do their best to meet the requirements. The final 30 percent have no lockout program whatsoever.
Any employer, adopting a hazardous energy control program, should start with conducting a thorough risk assessment and allowing that risk assessment to guide the hazardous energy control program in the workplace. It needs to be a “living” program that develops and adapts to changes in the workplace such as new production lines, new technology and new machinery. Everything needs to be documented, employees need to be trained based on the risks, and there needs to be validation that the hazardous energy control program is effective.
This shows employees that employers care for their welfare by not allowing them to work in hazardous environments, where an unexpected start-up can be disastrous.