Locking Out the Unexpected

Graphical lockout/tagout procedure writing software is designed for compliance and, more importantly, worker protection.

LIFE is full of surprises. They can either take our breath away with delight or, well, just take our breath away . . . permanently. If you're one of the millions of workers who service machines, then surprise--that instant of possibly painful astonishment--could be the last feeling you ever know.

Lockout/tagout procedures exist to prevent the element of surprise. Specifically, they're designed to preclude injuries or deaths that can result from the unexpected energization, start-up, or release of energy during the servicing of supposedly idled machinery or equipment. OSHA mandates and regulates the procedures through its Control of Hazardous Energy standard, 29 CFR 1910.147. But surprises of the lacerating, limb-losing, and lethal variety keep happening--most often while employees are performing routine maintenance, repairs, or cleaning equipment.

OSHA estimates compliance with the lockout/tagout standard prevents an estimated 50,000 injuries and 120 deaths each year. According to the National Safety Council, every fatality costs on average well more than $1 million. The comparatively "lucky" workers who are merely injured on the job from exposure to hazardous energy--suffering everything from puncture wounds to amputation--lose an OSHA-estimated average of 24 workdays, or just more than a month, for recuperation.

Lock and a Hard Place
Among manufacturing industries, 1910.147 was the most-cited OSHA standard from October 2002 through September 2003. The agency issued 555 lockout/tagout-related citations during that period, and the violations ran across the board, from failures to have a program established to failures to conduct periodic inspections or have employee training. Fully half of the violations were procedure-related: The penalized companies either didn't have written procedures developed, or the ones they had in place were deemed inadequate.

Not surprisingly, a number of computer applications are available to help companies achieve compliance and, by extension, assist workers who are otherwise left vulnerable by non-compliance. Using software to create the necessary lockout/tagout documentation will never alone solve what is essentially a management problem, but for involved and effective managers it can be a step in the right direction toward both safety and compliance.

One of the more sophisticated and user-friendly products is Lockout PRO™, a Windows®-based software package from Milwaukee-based Brady Corp. The procedure-writing software uses predefined instructions that are easily customized to fit a facility's needs. It enables the inclusion of digital photos, icons, control-point markers, and colors to supplement the text, making procedures graphically clear and easily understood.

Locks Sold Separately
Brady's literature says Lockout PRO "provides all the tools you need to create an effective, compliant energy control program with standardized procedures that are easy to follow," which would be true if the software were somehow able to produce the actual locks imperative for such a program. What it can produce, however, in addition to the procedures, are the lockout tags and labels needed for each energy source, which can then be printed from conventional inkjet or laser printers. With an intuitive user interface and automated features, the software cross-references the tags and labels to the specific procedure, making it easier for workers to understand and correctly follow the potentially life-saving instructions.

According to Brady's Safety and Facility ID Product Manager Chris Rutter, even when a facility has an energy control program in place, the procedures are often neglected because of inadequate instructions, insufficient training, or basic human impatience. "Sometimes people don't want to do lockout because it takes time," he said, "but the fact is they have to--OSHA requires it. So as long as you have to, you might as well create a good program with good, easy-to-follow procedures. The better your procedures are, the more graphical they are, the less chance there is that someone's going to make a mistake, throw the wrong switch, turn the wrong valve."

Rutter added that one of Lockout PRO's more important features is that it documents machine-specific procedures--procedures for every different piece of equipment covered by the standard. Not having such specific procedures, he said, "is where a lot of people go wrong: They'll have a generic procedure for a machine, but often that's not good enough."

Lockout PRO creates postable procedures in both long and short forms for each energy source in English, Spanish, French, or Portuguese, and it includes some employee training tools, along with editable corporate lockout/tagout policy forms. The basic software package is priced at $795.

It also comes in a server-based network version called Lockout PRO Enterprise. Among other capabilities, this version lets users view and print procedures from a Web browser, generate reports on lockout activity, and see which equipment has been locked out, by whom, and when. The Enterprise version has various licensing options that start at $2,995.

For more information on Lockout PRO, visit www.bradyid.com/lockoutpro. For more information on 29 CFR 1910.147, visit www.osha.gov.

This column appeared in the March 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the March 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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