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Lockout/Tagout: Protecting workers who deal with hazardous energy

Any machine that harnesses energy, from hydraulics to electrical equipment, poses a significant risk to workers who perform maintenance on it. Failure to effectively shut down a piece of equipment prior to maintenance can result in severe injuries, or even death. Employers across many industries must follow federal regulations for disabling machinery and equipment to prevent such injuries.

Today, we cover the basics of hazardous energy, the damage it can do, and how workers can protect themselves.

What is “hazardous energy?”

Energy sources for machinery can be unpredictable. Workers performing maintenance on a pipe system can suddenly encounter an automatic steam valve. An electrical system can short, subjecting a worker to electric shock. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) refers to these risks as “hazardous energy.”

Sudden releases of stored energy can lead to serious injuries, including:

  • Burns
  • Fractures
  • Lacerations
  • Electrocution
  • Amputations

Workers have also been crushed by equipment that unexpectedly starts up.

Lockout/Tagout systems

Those who perform routine service on machines rely on systems that “lockout” hazardous energy. OSHA’s standards for control of hazardous energy provide the federal rules for lockout/tagout procedures. Under the lockout/tagout rules, employers must establish programs and procedures to disable machines and prevent “unexpected energization, start up or release of stored energy.”

These rules apply in situations where a worker:

  • Must remove or bypass a safety device to perform maintenance
  • Is required to place any part of their body on the piece of machinery

Safety procedures include energy isolating devices, which physically prevent the transmission of energy. For example, a manually operated circuit breaker would aid in preventing sudden electrical surges.

Injured workers have options

Someone who has sustained an injury due to hazardous energy can benefit from consulting with an attorney experienced in workers’ compensation and personal injury. Whether the injury stemmed from a failure in lockout/tagout procedures or lack thereof, you do not have to recover alone.

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