Reach Lockout Tagout Safely in 7 Steps

Lockout Tagout

Lockout tagout (LOTO) precautions prevent one of the most common and catastrophic risks facing maintenance technicians. But if you’ve been involved with LOTO in any capacity, you know it comes with many challenges. And when critical safety precautions like these go less than perfectly, it compromises everything from productivity and efficiency to compliance and workplace safety. Worst of all…it puts lives at risk. 

Making LOTO devices safer and simpler is now possible thanks to a new generation of maintenance software. Managing lockout tagout devices in large volumes (group lockout), throughout big facilities, or across extended time periods becomes a seamless process with the right maintenance software involved. 

What is Lockout Tagout?

LOTO precautions are designed to prevent someone from accidentally restoring hazardous energy to equipment that has been disabled for maintenance. 

Normally, a technician turns off the energy-isolating mechanism supplying electricity, gas, water, steam, or another energy source, then secures the mechanism closed with a padlock (lockout) accompanied by a tag (tagout) explaining why access is temporarily prohibited. The technician performing the work is the only authorized employee that has the only key or padlock. 

By combining these three precautions, locking the power source, including an explicit warning, and separating the key, it helps the control of hazardous energy, because it becomes extremely difficult for someone to accidentally restore power in a situation that would create a workplace hazard. 

7 LOTO Safety Steps

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has a minimum acceptable process for using lockout tagout devices, outlined below, but many companies develop more stringent internal procedures.

Notify Affected Employees

Tell anyone who could attempt to operate or come into contact with the equipment that it will be disabled and locked out during maintenance. This includes operators, maintenance personnel, and any other workers in the vicinity.

 Identify Energy Sources

Look up what type of energy the equipment uses, the magnitude of the energy, the hazards, and the method and location of the energy-isolating mechanism. This involves locating switches, valves, breakers, or other devices used to control the flow of energy to the equipment.

Deactivate Equipment

Shut down the equipment using all normal stopping procedures prescribed by the manufacturer or standard operating procedures. This ensures that the equipment is safely brought to a halt before any maintenance work begins.

Deactivate Energy Isolating Devices

Isolate the energy sources from the equipment by the normal procedure. This may involve shutting off valves, disconnecting electrical connections, or other methods to prevent the flow of energy to the equipment.

Apply Lockout Devices

Apply lockout devices with assigned locks and tags to energy-isolating devices. Each lock and tag should be assigned to the individual performing the maintenance task to prevent re-energization of the equipment.

Dissipate Stored Energy

Remove stored energy (in things like springs or capacitors) or use restraints as necessary. This will prevent unexpected movement and releasing of energy during maintenance activities. 

Verify Energy Isolation

Before starting any maintenance work, check that the equipment is effectively isolated from all energy sources. You can do this by attempting to restart the equipment using normal operating procedures to ensure that it remains in a de-energized state.

Why is Lockout Tagout Important?

According to OSHA, lockout tagout devices help to prevent 50,000 injuries and 120 fatalities annually. These numbers, both high, speak to the frequency of accidents involving exposure to hazardous energy sources and to the severe damage this exposure causes. These incidents must be avoided at all costs.

For employers, lapses in LOTO precautions can result in worker’s compensation and medical bills, downtime and lost productivity, compliance violations and fines, and damage to worker morale and recruiting efforts. A single accident can be extremely expensive and disruptive, making it imperative to put effective lockout tagout procedures in place. LOTO procedures are an important component of environment, health and safety (EHS) programs and energy control programs.

OSHA Lockout Tagout Requirements

OSHA requires employers to follow a comprehensive series of lockout tagout precautions whenever technicians service machinery and dangerous equipment. OSHA standards include the control of hazardous energy (29 CFR 1910.147), requirements to standardize LOTO devices, train employees, codify procedures, and inspect regularly, among others.

Fines for rule violations vary, but LOTO violations commonly carry fines of $70,000 if no injury occurs or $250,000 plus criminal charges if one does. In Canada, a manufacturer was fined $50,000 for a LOTO violation which led to an employee injury.

Common Lockout Tagout Challenges

Having one technician apply one device to one piece of equipment just one time may be relatively simple. But as all these numbers go up, the complexity of keeping these devices safe, organized, and effective goes up too, increasing the risk that something gets overlooked and causes an accident. 

The most common (and now preventable) challenges associated with lockout tagout devices include:

  • Documentation Errors: Lockout/tagout programs that rely on paper-based processes are vulnerable to lost documents, missed fields, smeared ink, and countless other issues that can keep vital information off the official record. Printed LOTO procedures are also problematic because it’s harder to add and disseminate updates, leaving technicians operating with outdated or contradictory information. 
  • Limited Accessibility: When maintenance teams store important documents or details in a file cabinet in the office, it leaves technicians in the field with only two options: stop what they’re doing to retrieve the information, which is inefficient, or keep going without it, which is risky. Visibility and coordination are essential to the success of LOTO, so anything that limits where information can travel—such as paper files—works against the effectiveness of lockout tagout precautions.  
  • Communication Barriers: Maintenance technicians and equipment operators are both affected by equipment shutdowns, but they often work in separate departments with different communication channels. Without a shared source of information, they don’t have an easy way (or sometimes any way) to stay on the same page about every detail of every lockout. This challenge is particularly disruptive because when people, in any department, view LOTO precautions as inconvenient or confusing, they’re more likely to work around them

Use Maintenance Software to Automate Lockout Tagout

All the challenges outlined above originate from relying on paper documents, manual entries, disconnected data sources, and disorganized stakeholders. Analog information has a difficult time keeping up with the dynamic and dangerous nature of equipment service. Maintenance software digitizes that information, eliminating LOTO challenges while making it easier to deploy these devices far and wide. Here’s how:

Coordinate Everyone and Everything

Maintenance software integrates all the tools, data, people and resources involved with or affected by maintenance. It serves as the centralized hub so that everyone knows where to go to find information about past, present, or future maintenance activities involving LOTO. In addition to being a shared source of truth, maintenance software is accessible anywhere with the internet on any device. Keeping multiple moving parts working in sync goes smoother for all involved using dedicated maintenance software rather than paper documents or piecemeal solutions. 


Streamline and Centralize Communication

It only takes one missed detail that can lead to the release of hazardous energy, which can be fatal. Maintenance software provides a communication channel for the entire maintenance team plus any other stakeholders.

Communicating using a centralized platform allows you to send notifications to keep everyone informed about upcoming lockouts or field questions through a simple chat feature. Another big advantage of maintenance software is having a historical record of all communications to search or reference as needed. 

Follow Procedures and Best Practices

Technicians are much more likely to follow LOTO safety programs along with all compliance requirements when they have a clear checklist to follow. Maintenance software lets you build custom checklists that technicians can easily bring up in the field on their device. 

Anyone can later audit these checklists to verify that technicians followed all rules, including regulators who have a simple digital audit trail to follow to confirm compliance. 

Track and Analyze Results

LOTO procedures can be improved in many ways, from making compliance more consistent to reducing the amount of equipment downtime. Maintenance software makes those improvements achievable by creating a repository of digital data related to LOTO activities, then analyzing it for trends, patterns, and anomalies. 

Software makes it easy to see what’s working and what’s not so you can make targeted improvements and proactively fix issues before they lead to accidents or violations. 

Automate or Eliminate Tasks

Locking out a device can’t be a burden or distraction, and maintenance software relieves friction by eliminating tasks like the need to shuffle paper to the right places or track down someone to answer a quick question.

 It also automates tasks that used to take up significant time such as scheduling recurring tasks or sending reminders to team members. Making the administrative side of things easy and automatic allows technicians to focus on staying safe while keeping managers from being overwhelmed with daily operations. 

Digital Lockout Tagout with Coast 

There’s no room to compromise when it comes to lockout tagout, but outdated processes reliant on paper forms, clipboards, ink pens, and spreadsheets make getting it right, every time, an ongoing challenge for all involved.

 Maintenance software provides the digital data and integrated toolkit necessary to keep LOTO from being a disruption or hazard—among countless other capabilities that collectively take maintenance operations to new heights of safety, efficiency, and coordination. 

Make sure LOTO works as intended. Start by replacing the current processes with digital upgrades made possible by maintenance software like Coast.

Why worry when you can Coast?

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