How to Make Lockout/Tagout Procedures Part of Your Company Culture

Ingraining these procedures in employee’s heads and making them easier to execute can help prevent unfortunate and entirely unnecessary accidents.

Lockout/tagout (LOTO) safety procedures are critical ones, aimed at keeping machines or other equipment with at least one energy souce (or two or more energy sources — like a generator that can run on fuel or a battery) from restarting or releasing stored energy while someone is performing maintenance or service on it. 

Lockout devices (which may or may not be actual locks) prevent the machine from being energized. The devices can’t be removed without a key or other unlocking mechanism. A tag identifies the person who holds the key. For machines that can’t be locked out, a tagout procedure alone may be used.

Getting employees to appreciate the importance of an LOTO policy can be a challenge.  Here’s how to make it more than just another nuisance.

Explain the ramifications. Don't give employees the responsibility of LOTO without reinforcing that this is for their safety. Describe some of the possible hazards, in stark detail if need be, as well as the consequences they'll be avoiding by performing their duties with care and accuracy.

Adequately train authorized workers. The employees involved in locking out equipment or machinery, known as authorized workers, need to be trained for the role.  That training should include how and when to communicate to affected workers (usually, those who work on the equipment or work in areas where LOTO procedures apply) that a lockout device has been placed or removed.

Make it simple and convenient. Employees could be taking shortcuts if the process is too cumbersome or hampers production. Ensure that lockout stations equipped with the right supplies, including the right lockout devices for your equipment, are readily accessible. Put laminated copies of machine-specific lockout/tagout procedures within easy reach of relevant machines. Add how-to photos detailing each step to really drive the information home.

Personalize tagout devices. This goes a step beyond putting one person in charge of a LOTO procedure. A tag with a photo, name, department and other identifying information of the person authorized to lock and unlock a piece of equipment gives him or her ownership of that part of the company's safety policy.   

Let employees conduct annual audits. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires companies to perform annual audits of their LOTO procedures to reveal any weaknesses in the program. Having employees lead this initiative will get them involved at a higher level. This is also an opportunity for employers to slip in a little extra training.

For more on LOTO procedures, check out OSHA’s lockout/tagout fact sheet and interactive training program.