Lockout and tagout appear to have a perennial lock as one of OSHA’s top 10 violations each year. It is a tough challenge in any organization getting employees to take time to isolate and lockout potentially hazardous energy. As I look back now, I realize that I missed something when I first started dealing with the issue in the ‘70s and the ‘80s. First, some background:
When we discovered violations of lockout, it was common to counsel, warn and retrain employees using skills-based training. Eventually, we tried to see things through the eyes of employees and recognized more clearly the issues posed by design constraints.
As an example, in large manufacturing facilities it was common to find disconnects located in overhead mezzanines where electrical panels for transfer lines and other special equipment were placed to maximize floor space. Access to these panels and their disconnects was by walking up a properly guarded ladder. Let’s face it, ladders cost much less and use far less space than stairs.
Put yourself in the place of a maintenance worker performing a task that required lockout. It required walking to the ladder, up the ladder, determining which panel controlled the hazardous energy, pulling the disconnect and then locking it with a personal lock. Back down the stairs to perform the task. Then, a repeat of the prior steps to remove the lock and re-energize the power was necessary.
In addition, there might be another problem that would require further work and a repeat of the lockout sequence.
We determined that existing standards had been developed by experts with electrical backgrounds. Overhead disconnects were great for electricians working on electrical panels, motors and other overhead equipment, but what about personnel on the factory floor? Disconnects were ultimately placed at both floor level and mezzanine to accommodate work being performed at both levels. For me, it was my first insight into what later came to be called Safety Thru Design and now Prevention Thru Design being led by NIOSH. (More on these in later blog posts.)
The better designs improved compliance with employees following standard safety procedures.
It was clear that the old designs required significantly more time to properly lockout. In some cases, the time to lockout equaled the time to perform the work. Furthermore, climbing a vertical ladder is anything but comfortable. Was it any wonder that employees chose to take shortcuts?
What I failed to see back then was how profound the time and comfort issues were in the overall scheme of things. It is another example of how I had my eyes opened sitting through my first FDSsafety awareness session. Had I recognized time and comfort issues as pervasive drivers of behavior, perhaps we would have not only worked on the technical challenges but also tried a “softer approach” to offset the natural tendencies to take shortcuts.
Where lockout and tagout is involved, employees must always be thinking of their family and that their personal safety cannot be compromised – regardless of time and/or comfort issues.