The importance of well-designed and closely followed lockout-tagout procedures was underscored recently when a federal court upheld citations which were levied against a Georgia electric services company as a result of a 2011 accident that resulted in the death of one of their employees.
The 2011 accident occurred when an apprentice at the company and an associate were working to replace fans in a cooling bed. Safety protocols at the company that required the entire cooling bed to be locked out were reportedly not followed. This case underscores the importance of adequate lockout/tagout procedures, even in situations where injuries or accidents are not specifically related to the equipment being worked on.
The workers apparently entered the basement area of the company off of the designated “safe walkways” PRIOR to notification that lockout-tagout procedures designed to keep them safe had been completed. Their decision to do this was in conflict with rules and procedures of the company.
The apprentice and his coworker reportedly also did not affix their personal locks to the group lockout box nor did they complete the required work permit. A steel technician working at the same time could apparently not see the workers below and de-energized the counterweights in the cooling bed. Court records show that one of the counterweights dropped, striking the apprentice with a fatal blow to the head.
This case was somewhat unique in that the company argued that the equipment that the employees were working on was not the equipment that caused the fatality and as such, they should not be cited. The company maintained that the employees were only “looking at” the fans, not actually servicing them. Earlier court rulings had supported the company’s position.
Although the case was reviewed and appealed through a series of hearings at various courts, the citation was ultimately upheld by a federal appeals court. The appeals court ruling stated that the employer “who must make frequent and expert judgments about workplace safety to quell the regulatory and liability concerns they face, are capable of determining the appropriate scope of their LOTO protocols.” The judges said it didn’t matter whether they were “working on” or “observing” equipment.
Properly designed and strictly adhered to lockout/tagout procedures are key to safe and efficient business operations. ESC Services specializes in assisting businesses and organizations identify risk and design procedures specific to keeping employees safe and businesses operating efficiently.