Your smartphone vibrates reminding you that the shift change occurs in 15 minutes. Being recently promoted to safety director adds a new sense of responsibility for not only this facility but two others. Gazing at the long line of workers who file out of the building through the main exit reminds you how much the company has grown over the last 5 years.
Many companies find they outgrow many of the systems and programs that worked perfectly fine for the smaller company but start to break down as the company transitions into a larger more complex company. With lockout/tagout programs, the breaking point doesn’t always come in the form of obvious inaccuracies or system breakdowns, but more that the program is no longer efficient enough to keep up with the company’s exacting needs and way of doing business.
It’s at this fork in the road where companies find themselves struggling with what to do with lockout/tagout. Often times the first choice is fix it or replace it. The old system is likely riddled with inconsistencies and plagued with old formats that are not intuitive. After doing some research, it quickly becomes obvious that a new graphical lockout/tagout procedure program is needed to help them meet their goals of improving efficiency.
First the thought of creating the new program with in house resources is explored. That in house idea is dismissed as quickly as it was brought up when it’s calculated that at least 4 new people would need to be hired full time to create the system and only 1 person would be needed to maintain it after the program was completed. The decision to outsource the program is now final – so what should a company look for when outsourcing?
There are five important aspects a company should consider before outsourcing:
Core Focus of Lockout/Tagout
Credibility / History / Experience
Adaptability / Accommodating
Quick Project Execution
Non-Proprietary Platform – You Own Your Program
Often times too much emphasis is placed on the wrong elements leaving a company with an entirely new program that effectively loses its entire value within 12 months; or worse becomes a money pit/trap that you cannot get out of unless you scrap the entire program. The company that will be right for your company will be the subject matter specialists in lockout/tagout, have a history of offering the same service to companies of similar size in similar industry, be adaptable to meet your unique needs, be quick to deliver a fully operational program within your preferred time frame and utilize a non-proprietary software platform for creating the procedures like Microsoft Excel.
1:5 – Core Focus of Lockout/Tagout
While CFR1910.147 – Control of Hazardous Energy / Lockout/Tagout remains near the top of OSHA’s top 10 most cited regulations every year, it’s rarely contested that lockout/tagout is one of the most important regulations to focus your safety efforts on. As such, the company you select should treat it equally as important. Lockout/tagout compliance isn’t easy, or why would it be a top cited regulation every year, costing companies millions of dollars in citations?
According to the Better Business Bureau there are 239 safety consultant businesses in the US and only 59 accredited. Of those companies, only a small handful will specialize in workplace safety and OSHA regulatory compliance. Up selecting from the list the few that meet your needs with lockout/tagout as an offering, you will want to filter the list further to find the companies that have lockout/tagout as their core focus. They should also offer services that compliment lockout/tagout such as arc flash service (NFPA 70E, IEEE 1584), confined space service (1910.146), and standard operating procedure service to ensure a truly comprehensive solution.
2:5 – Credibility / History / Experience
When you sort your list down to those who have lockout/tagout as their specialty, look a little deeper and see what their credibility is. Ideally they should be an engineering firm employing full time engineers (mechanical, civil, electrical, and/or industrial engineering focus). These technical backgrounds will ensure you get a premium level of service to reduce the amount of impact on your in-house personnel when the program is being implemented. By contrast, if a company is using non-technical workers (or contracts out to temp agencies), then they have saved you no time by outsourcing. They will be costing you money, taxing your in house resources nearly the equivalent amount of doing it themselves, and likely delivering a product that is sub par for quality.
3:5 – Adaptability / Accommodating
When considering your time is scarce which is one of the main reasons you are outsourcing the creation of this very important lockout/tagout program to another company, it’s imperative that they prove before they are selected that they are adaptable to changing environments and accommodating to special requests. Rarely does a lockout/tagout project get fully executed perfectly as it was planned. Inevitably there will be changes in scope, equipment moving around, new employees to work with, odd hours for working with late shifts or early shifts, and project preference changes as the project is active. As these needs arise, the last thing you want to hear is that they can’t or won’t flex to meet your needs. One way to verify this ahead of time is to ask to speak with their recent clients that are in your industry. Ask them if they had any challenges that were overcome during the project and how this company handled it. Let them know you’re looking for evidence of adaptability and discuss it in great detail.
4:5 – Quick Project Execution
With all else being equal and prices/value remaining relatively close, the company you choose to work with should be quick. Using the latest in technology with smart phones, tablets, mobile hot spots and cloud networking, a company should be able to complete an average size facility with 200 procedures, 40 authorized employees trained, 100 affected employee trained, corporate policy created, and locks/devices delivered in as little as 4 weeks if you need it that quickly. If a company is not experts at lockout/tagout, their timelines will be much longer because they are still learning and have not yet mastered the skills it takes to be accurate and quick.
5:5 – Non-Proprietary Platform
Perhaps it goes without saying, but if there was only one criteria you went by, this might be the only one that should never be omitted. There are software programs out there specifically designed to help with the creation of graphical lockout/tagout procedures. That seems like it might be a great idea at first, but the companies that are creating these programs are typically not software companies and many have a track history of obsoleting the programs as time goes on. This means that if you built your entire lockout/tagout program with their proprietary software and the software quits working, you have lost your entire investment. This has happened to many companies and it’s very unfortunate because it’s an easy problem to avoid – simply use a common software platform like Microsoft Excel. Microsoft Excel is extremely powerful and can look/feel like a program with nothing to install or maintain.
Another approach that you will want to recognize and avoid is when a company only provides locked copies or .pdf copies of your procedures. Essentially, you are trapped into contacting them to make any changes to your procedures as your equipment changes. To avoid this, simply ask what they deliver and ensure you own royalty free rights to make changes and updates to your program.
Any company you are selecting should be able to create your procedures in any platform you choose. This is also part of being accommodating, but it’s more about giving you exactly what you need, not just what they are selling.
Global Capabilities – For International Locations
If your company has other sites that are spread out in different countries, it will definitely be a good idea to ensure the company you select can travel to those countries. There are only a few select companies that truly specialize in lockout/tagout and meet all the above criteria, even fewer that have experience with implementing programs in other countries. They should have a proven history of success with custom tailored solutions addressing translations, custom formats, customize trainings, and knowledge of local codes to give you peace of mind that the solution you are investing in will be a long term solution.
In conclusion, lockout/tagout is and will continue to be one of the most cited safety regulations in the US. Globally energy control programs are recognized as one of the most important safety programs to have in place because the accidents are so severe and frequent otherwise.
When the right company is selected for the creation of your lockout/tagout program, it should feel more like a partnership than a transaction. The company you select will seek to understand your unique needs and help you answer questions you didn’t even know to ask.
With ESC Services, we have all 6 of the aforementioned traits plus more including tools and training for sustainability. We want to empower our clients to really own their programs. When our clients do call us back to return, it’s typically because they have a very large expansion or have acquired another company and want to bring the same level of performance to all areas.