The Control of Hazardous Energy regulation was developed in 1982 by OSHA to help protect workers who routinely service equipment in the workplace. The regulation went into effect in 1989, since which, the number of injuries and deaths in the US workplace has dramatically decreased.
At the time of program implementation, most machines weren’t designed to accept a padlock at the points of isolation. Local disconnects weren’t always common; MCC panels at times were the only way to shut off the electrical power, and they may not have been capable of being locked out. The tagout system, which provides only limited means of protection, may have been the only solution at times.
The first lockout procedures were simple text-based procedures. Usually generic, they provided employees limited information about how to properly shutdown and lockout the equipment.
As lockout/tagout became more common and as employers saw the benefits of having an energy control program, procedures gradually got better. Machine specific procedures were written with detailed shutdown steps and methods for verifying the effectiveness of the lockout.
With the advancement of technology, procedures were capable of being saved digitally and updated more frequently. Programs allowed employers to format the procedures better, making them more readable. Checklists could be added and grid-style procedures could be written.
Some companies began to supplement their procedures with line diagrams of the equipment. Digital cameras allowed them to include picture references.
Today the graphical approach is the industry standard for lockout/tagout. Many employers see the benefits of upgrading their program to include pictures. It makes it easier for the employee to find the correct disconnects, lockout the equipment quickly, and decrease downtime.
Software programs designed to create and track the usage of lockout/tagout procedures are becoming common. Some programs allow procedures to be created in-house, provided someone has the proper know-how. Other programs can hold a database of information, including P&IDs, isolation point numbers, and asset IDs. Even common programs such as MS Office can be used as a powerful tool for lockout/tagout procedures.
As lockout/tagout procedures enter the digital age, the need for paper copies is decreasing. Computers are readily available throughout most facilities, so employees can quickly locate the procedure they need and print it out for use.
Better yet, tablets are eliminating the need for paper altogether. By loading a tablet with all of the company’s lockout/tagout procedures, employees can easily take a tablet to the machine, follow the procedure, and lockout a piece of equipment in an efficient manner. By syncing the tablet with the company shared drive, employees can know they are always using the most up-to-date copy of the lockout/tagout procedure.
Programs now exist that allow employers to track lockout/tagout usage in real time. Managers can see which employees are performing the lockout, what machines are being serviced, how long they are being worked on, and how much downtime occurs each month. Technology even improves the efficiency for annual audits.
Looking forward, lockout/tagout programs will begin to embrace technology more. Soon employees will be able to use their smartphones to connect to the company database, select a procedure, and show others they are working on the equipment with just a few clicks. Barcodes or QR codes can be applied to the machine, making it quick for employees to scan and produce the necessary procedures.
Eventually, all scheduled PM tasks will be emailed or texted to the correct maintenance personnel, with a direct link to the machine needing service. Supervisors can monitor the progress from a computer and create annual reports from the information provided. Tracking of which machines need repair the most can help identify units that may need an upgrade and where funds should be allocated.
Corporate safety personnel will be able to monitor sites across the globe. On-site visits can occur less frequently as procedures will be available online, and webcams can be utilized to review employees at work. Large corporations can standardize their programs, maximizing employee safety and production efficiency.