At Amp Authority, we talk a lot about electrical products. Today’s article is going to be about how to safely operate a disconnect switch or pin and sleeve plug during shutdown or temporary maintenance. To do that, we’re going to cover what is lockout tagout and why it matters.
What is LockOut TagOut?
While “what is lockout tagout” sounds like a simple topic, it’s critically important to understand clearly. Lockout tagout is a mandate from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) which is a government agency tasked with the job of ensuring safe working environments for all employees in both industrial and non-industrial settings. To understand what is lockout tagout, your best bet is to read about it straight from the source. Here’s how OSHA describes Lockout Tagout:
The OSHA standard for The Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout), Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1910.147, addresses the practices and procedures necessary to disable machinery or equipment, thereby preventing the release of hazardous energy while employees perform servicing and maintenance activities. The standard outlines measures for controlling hazardous energies—electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal, and other energy sources.
Why Is Lockout Tagout Important?
Lockout tagout matters because it provides a safety framework for employees working in a hazardous setting. Without it, you would be relying simply on employees being aware at all times and understanding their surroundings. While most people generally try to be safe, it’s almost impossible to do given the demands on people’s time in today’s modern manufacturing environment. The importance is summarized well in this article.
Let’s consider a simple example. Joe works at a chicken plant. Early in the morning, he gets a call that one of the conveyors isn’t working correctly:
Joe is experienced but the company he works for is the kind of place where someone would ask “wait, what is lockout tagout?”. He goes to the part of the line where the issue is and turns off the disconnect switch.
He then begins repairing the line. So far, so good. However, the Production Manager, Mike, walks by and is confused. Mike is measured by the amount of time the lines remain running. Without thinking, Mike goes to the switches and turns them on. Joe is now at serious risk of bodily injury without Mike doing anything intentionally harmful.
You can see why Lockout Tagout procedures need to be put in place. If Joe had locked out the switch, Mike would not have been able to turn the line back on.
What is LockOut TagOut for Disconnect Switches?
If Joe had been properly trained or followed Lockout Tagout safety protocol, how would he actually go about locking out the switch? Any major manufacturer of UL508 disconnect switches will have a hole on the red handle of the switch where you are able to place a hasp or lock in place:
This does not allow Mike to come over and turn it on without having the key. As you may have guessed, Joe would have probably kept the key with him while working on the machine. Leviton even has the ability to put multiple locks on their disconnects for extra safety.
What is LockOut TagOut for Pin and Sleeve?
Pin and sleeve wiring devices also have Lockout Tagout capability. Typically, there are two different mechanisms by which you can safely lock out a plug:
- Many manufacturers will provide a hole on the plug which would allow you to put a hasp or lock on it such as the example below
- When there is no pre-drilled hole, customers can buy an accessory called a “plug guard” that doesn’t require a lock but also will not allow for a plug to be energized
Summing It Up
OSHA Lockout Tagout has to be a critical piece of any company’s safety handbook. Employees must embrace it as part of their culture in order to avoid on-the-job accidents. Make it so important that Joe never asks “what is lockout tagout” again.