The Key to Safety During Lockout/Tagout

The Key to Safety During Lockout/Tagout

One critical element of protection during LOTO procedures is the use of arc-rated flame resistant (AR/FR) clothing.

In the electrical industry, you have probably heard the phrase “we don’t work energized.” But is this statement accurate? The answer is almost always no, due to a common misunderstanding of what qualifies as energized work. 

Both OSHA and NFPA 70E have rules to address this issue, including lockout/tagout (LOTO) for OSHA and Electrically Safe Work Condition (ESWC) for 70E. Simply turning off a breaker is not enough, since all but one step in the process is considered energized work according to both standards.

To create a de-energized work condition, a qualified person must follow a multi-step process that includes physically locking out the system with a signed tag, testing for absence of voltage and testing the voltmeter in a live system to confirm it works. 

All these steps require arc-rated flame resistant (AR/FR) clothing and other PPE since they are considered energized work. Reversing the process by removing the lock, restoring power and confirming the presence of voltage are also considered energized work. Depending on how you count the steps, six out of the seven steps required by OSHA and 70E are considered energized work. 

Do you still think you do not work energized? Here is our favorite question: Do you own a voltmeter? If you said yes, you work energized.

What Qualifies as de-Energized Work?

From both a standards and practical/PPE perspective, little of what is called “de-energized work” qualifies as such. Unless you are pulling wire in new construction that is not connected to the grid and has no temporary power, most of every job you perform is energized work. Therefore, according to NFPA 70E, it is critical to establish an ESWC before performing work on electrical conductors or circuit parts operating at voltages equal to or greater than 50 volts.

Unfortunately, many people misunderstand the standards and hazards or choose to ignore them, resulting in a fatality rate of about one person each week in the United States, and a significant injury rate much higher. 

However, there is good news in the face of these tragedies: They are entirely preventable by taking necessary precautions. Establishing an electrically safe work environment whenever possible and wearing AR/FR clothing as daily wear are two key precautions.

During the LOTO process, it is not just the process itself that is important—it is also essential to ensure that all personnel involved in the LOTO process are protected from the hazards they may encounter. 

One critical element of protection during LOTO procedures is the use of AR/FR clothing. These garments are specially designed to protect workers from the thermal hazards of electric arcs and other heat-related risks that may occur during the LOTO process. During each step of the process, workers must wear appropriate AR/FR clothing to protect themselves from any potential electrical or thermal hazards.

Empowering Workers

The Partnership for Electrical Safety (PES) has embraced the opportunity to educate workers and their employers. In collaboration with OSHA, PES has undertaken an extensive analysis of the compliance rates for NFPA 70E standards, as well as the frequency and severity of arc flash events among commercial and industrial electricians throughout the U.S. 

By conducting this research, PES hopes to empower electrical workers to take informed steps towards enhancing their safety in the workplace while also emphasizing the importance of always following established safety protocols.

In a recent meeting hosted by PES, the senior safety leadership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Electrical Training Alliance (ETA) joined forces to address the pressing issue of arc flash incidents in the electrical industry. The discussion centered around the alarming lack of PPE among over half of American commercial and industrial electrical workers and the resulting catastrophic injuries and fatalities that occur each year. 

The gravity of this situation underscores the urgent need for updated guidance that will provide greater clarity and promote a culture of safety in the workplace. 

PES is optimistic that we will soon see the release of updated guidance that will dispel the belief that “we don’t work energized” and close the loophole responsible for the lack of protection for over 700,000 electrical workers in commercial and industrial settings.

Working to Debunk the Myth

The largest single cause of arc flash injuries and fatalities in the U.S. today is believing the work is de-energized when it is not. Therefore, Tyndale USA recently joined forces with industry experts from OSHA, the ETA and IBEW and E-Hazard to shoot down the myth of working de-energized, with the goal of saving workers from potentially fatal workplace accidents caused by human error. These experts are all in agreement that: 

  • More than half of all commercial and industrial electrical workers in the U.S. (700,000 or more) still lack arc flash PPE, despite the NFPA 70E standard that has been addressing arc flash for over two decades.
  • The consequences of non-compliance with this standard are dozens of catastrophic injuries and fatalities each year.
  • These injuries could be avoided or significantly reduced using arc rated clothing and other PPE.
  • Action is necessary to reduce these injuries and save lives.

Here are three key safety measures:

  1. Do not work energized if you do not have to.
  2. If you do work energized, recognize the hazard, and do not wear fuel.
  3. Ensure that your arc rated clothing and other PPE are sufficiently rated to protect against the level of incident energy projected for that equipment.

In conclusion, the PES and its collaborators have taken significant strides towards promoting electrical worker safety by educating workers and providing updated guidance. They have debunked the myth that “we don’t work energized” and emphasized the importance of establishing an electrically safe work environment whenever possible, wearing arc-rated clothing, and following LOTO procedures. 

Although there is still a long way to go, with over half of commercial and industrial electrical workers in the U.S. still lacking arc flash PPE, the efforts of PES and its collaborators are undoubtedly critical steps towards reducing the alarming rate of serious injuries and fatalities in the electrical industry. 

It is essential to remember that these tragedies can be prevented by taking the necessary precautions and always following established safety protocols.

This article originally appeared in the June 1, 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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