Continuous advances in machine, equipment and process technology are making companies more efficient, productive and competitive - necessary attributes in a global economy. As technology has advanced however, the energy sources driving machines have become more powerful and sophisticated, making service and maintenance tasks more demanding, complex, and often, more dangerous. While machine safeguarding has also progressed, injury risks for those who operate, service and maintain equipment persist.

OSHA's Lockout/tagout Standard has been in effect since September 1, 1989, yet hazardous energy release incidents continue to occur. OSHA estimates that failure to control hazardous energy sources results in: 10% of all serious industrial accidents; loss of about 122 lives / year; 28,400 lost workday injuries per year, and 31,900 non-lost workday injuries a year. In addition to injuries and loss of life, accidents can result in equipment damage, can slow or stop production, and significantly increase costs. Preventing these losses with a high performance lockout/tagout program can help companies get the most out of their resources and improve productivity.

Despite the alarming number of fatalities and injuries attributed with failure to lockout and tagout machines, equipment and processes (MEP), the view of lockout/tagout as a burdensome, production-slowing task apparently persists. This is evidenced by the fact that in fiscal 1998, lockout/tagout violations ranked fourth on OSHA's top ten list of most frequently cited standards (3,532 violations), and fourth on the top ten list of serious violations (2,537 serious violations).

The occurrence of hazardous energy related incidents can generally be attributed to management system failures. The types of management errors which contribute to lockout/tagout related incidents include: lack of management enforcement; negative supervisory role model; blatant disregard by employees; weak management lockout/tagout emphasis; inadequate lockout/tagout training; and lack of specific lockout/tagout procedures. Injuries and losses arising from failure to control hazardous energy are entirely preventable through the implementation of a high performance lockout/tagout program.


The basic elements of a lockout/tagout program include: conducting an application and exposure survey; developing a written program; developing machine-specific energy control procedures; provision of protective appliances; employee training; and annual program / procedure review. While these basic elements may suffice for compliance purposes, additional elements are needed for the lockout/tagout program to be successful. These include:

  • Visible Management Leadership. Personnel must have the necessary authority and resources to meet their responsibilities. Protective appliances (e.g., locks, tags, blocks, pins, wedges, and other lockout devices) must be provided and readily available. Lockout/tagout responsibilities should be well defined, and managers should ensure that all requirements are properly executed.

  • Employee Participation. Employees should participate in the development and implementation of the lockout program, energy control procedures, and inspections using a "team approach." Communication with and feedback from employees should be sought continuously to identify deficiencies and drive improvement.

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