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4 Key Steps to Creating Lockout/Tagout Programs (Updated June 2022)

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A maintenance employee turns off the power to a piece of equipment and sticks their arm into the machine to clear out a jam. A co-worker, unaware the power is off for a reason, turns on the equipment, seriously injuring the maintenance employee.

We've all heard horror stories like this, but with thorough lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures in place, you can reduce the chance of accidents like this happening in your workplace.

Controlling Hazardous Energy

When machines or equipment are being prepared for service or maintenance, they often contain some form of hazardous energy that can harm workers in the area. Energy sources can include electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical or thermal sources in machines and equipment. LOTO programs are all about the control of hazardous energy.

What Is Lockout/Tagout?

The system for protecting workers (maintenance technicians, machine operators and those in the general area) from unexpected energization, startup or release of hazardous energy during equipment servicing or maintenance is called lockout/tagout.

  • Lockout: The placement of a device that blocks the flow of energy from a power source to a piece of equipment.
  • Tagout: The placement of a tag on or near the lockout device to warn others not to restore energy to the equipment.

LOTO programs and protocols are used to keep employees safe from equipment or machinery that could injure or kill them if not managed correctly.

Why Your Company Needs LOTO Procedures

Maintenance workers support your company’s machinery, so equipment runs properly and safely. And it’s crucial that your maintenance employees also remain safe and able to perform in top condition. Implementing a LOTO program can prevent deadly scenarios from occurring in your workplace. A well-developed LOTO program saves lives by:

  • Protecting employees from an accidental release of energy
  • Preventing employees from operating equipment when it’s unsafe to do so
  • Warning employees that equipment is being serviced

Keeping employees safe seems like a good enough reason for a LOTO program, but if you need more convincing, there are also large fines associated with failing to follow OSHA’s standard for The Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) (29 CFR 1910.147).

Developing Machine-Specific LOTO Procedures

A good LOTO program includes several coordinated steps (outlined below) to achieve employee safety. One of the crucial steps involves creating machine-specific LOTO procedures. That means that each machine or piece of equipment in your facility must have a printed list of procedures.

1. Identify equipment and gather information: Spend some time determining which pieces of equipment need procedures. Consider which employees should be involved in developing the program and which will be responsible for following the procedures for each piece of equipment. Then compile information about each individual machine, including:

  • The energy sources and magnitude that may be connected to each machine
  • How to shut down the machine and release or restrain stored energy
  • How to isolate the energy sources
  • How to verify a successful lockout
  • How to restart the equipment

2. Write LOTO Procedures for Each Piece of EquipmentThese procedures will be used by employees who provide maintenance or service to that machine. They must cover each step in the process. Copies of the written procedures must be posted by the equipment. A master record should also be a part of your company’s LOTO written policies and procedures manual. Be sure to include photos that show switches, knobs or other details to remind employees of the components that are part of the process. Below we outline the six common steps of LOTO procedures.

  • Step 1: Prepare for Shutdown

    – The authorized employee must refer to the company procedure to identify the type and magnitude of the energy that the machine or equipment utilizes, understand the hazards of the energy and know the methods to control the energy.
  • Step 2: Notify Affected Employees

    – Notify all affected employees that servicing or maintenance is required on a machine or equipment, and that the machine or equipment must be shut down and locked/tagged out to do so.
  • Step 3: Shut Down Equipment

    – Power down the machine or equipment in a safe and orderly manner, in accordance with the equipment-specific procedure or operating manual (depress the stop button, flip switch, close valve, etc.)
  • Step 4: Isolate Energy Sources

    – Make sure all sources of energy have been isolated. Turn off power, close valves, block moving parts, disengage and block lines, etc.
  • Step 5. Apply LOTO Devices

    – Lock out the energy-isolating devices (switches, levers, etc.) with assigned individual locks (padlocks, safety hasps, etc.). Each device should feature a tag that displays the name of the employee who applied the device and why.
  • Step 6: Release All Secondary Energy Sources

    – Even after the energy source has been disconnected and the machine or equipment has been locked out, there could be sources of residual energy, such as trapped heat in a thermal system or hydraulic pressure, that need to be safely relieved, disconnected or restrained.
  • Step 7: Verify Isolation

    – Now that all primary and secondary sources of energy have been disconnected, it’s time to double-check. Once confident that all hazardous energy has been isolated and verifying that nobody is in a position where they could be hurt, employees can perform a safe check to ensure that the machine or equipment cannot be started without removing the LOTO device.
  • Step 8: Restart Equipment

    – When the maintenance work is complete and all tools, parts and debris have been removed from the area, the machine can be brought back into operation. Be sure to replace any safety features and machine guards, close all access panels, remove all locks and tags, and inform all affected employees the work is complete and the machinery is about to be re-energized.

3. Train Employees on the Procedures: After the steps are documented, you'll need to train employees on specific duties, as well as OSHA standards. Training is essential for maintenance employees, equipment operators and others who work in the area where the equipment is located. Keep records of training sessions (content, date, trainer name and attendee signature) within your written program.

Since outcomes can be very severe and even deadly when LOTO is not properly applied, it is important that only trained employees are allowed to perform machine LOTO. All employees need to be aware of the dangers when working with equipment and the potentially deadly consequences of taking shortcuts or not following procedures.

4. Review and Revamp Procedures: At least annually, each procedure should be reviewed by an authorized person other than the employee who regularly services the machine. The process confirms both the safety of the procedure and the operator.

Manufacturing Lockout/Tagout Case Study 

Picture this: a manufacturing worker turns off a conveyor to do pit maintenance. However, the worker does not complete the lockout/tagout process because the device station is too far away. Instead, the worker verbally notifies the other workers that the conveyor is turned off for maintenance and then heads to the underfloor conveyor pit to conduct said maintenance.

Why it’s a problem: suppose a worker who was not verbally notified of the situation noticed that the conveyor was turned off and decided to turn it back on. This could have caused a serious injury or fatality. You cannot rely on verbal communication alone to maintain workplace safety. Miscommunications happen. That’s why following the lockout/tagout procedures at your facility is crucial for everyone’s safety.

Solution: a lockout/tagout station was placed at the pit for instant access to fix this hazard. In addition, staff received refresher training about lockout/tagout procedures.

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