Lockout/Tagout and Machine Guarding

Employees who work with heavy machinery are at risk of serious injury and amputation. In 2021, the United States had 2,607,900 non-fatal work injuries. Organizations that utilize heavy machinery must abide by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards or risk substantial penalties.

OSHA has a national emphasis program for amputations in manufacturing to identify and reduce or eliminate amputation hazards in the workplace. To eliminate risks to workers and OSHA citations, employers must prioritize appropriate lockout/tagout and machine guarding systems and train all workers in these systems’ theory and practical application.

What Is Machine Guarding?

Machine guarding, also known as safeguarding, is a term that refers to protection — either around or on machines — to shield machine operators from injury or dangerous conditions. Machines with many moving parts present significant risks for severe workplace injuries, including amputations, crushed extremities, and burns.

There are five main approaches to machine guarding, including the following:

  1. Guards: Physical barriers enclosing dangerous machine parts to prevent worker contact.
  2. Safeguarding devices: Controls or attachments preventing inadvertent employee access to hazardous machine areas, such as pullbacks, restraints, and presence sensing.
  3. Secondary safeguarding methods: These methods of protection provide a lesser degree of safeguarding for workers but augment or replace the primary safeguarding devices if their installation is not feasible. They include awareness devices and safe work procedures.
  4. Location or distance: Positioning dangerous parts of a machine so they are not accessible to workers and therefore don’t represent a hazard when operating the machine.
  5. Awareness barriers: Warning signs reminding workers they’re approaching a hazardous area. They provide an extra layer of safety but do not give any physical protection.

What Is Lockout/Tagout?

Lockout/tagout (LOTO) is a system that protects workers from injuries due to unintentional exposure to stored energy from machinery and other equipment during servicing and maintenance. Machines can start up or cycle unexpectedly during routine maintenance, which could result in severe injury or amputation. Despite OSHA’s focus on these essential protocols, lockout/tagout violations are among the top 10 OSHA violations for 2022.

As the name suggests, this system has two components — lockout and tagout. Each part is responsible for worker safety during machine maintenance and can be described as the following:

  • Lockout: A device that prevents employees from operating the equipment during routine maintenance.
  • Tagout: A device that warns employees not to operate the equipment.

There are several methods for implementing a LOTO system. Depending on the situation, a safety manager could implement a system as simple as a padlock that is identifiable through color, shape, or size with a unique key and a tag to inform others that they should not operate the machine.

Lockout isolates energy from the system, disconnecting the power required for a machine to run. This is accomplished through the use of energy-isolating devices which come in many forms, from circuit breaker switches to line valves. Tags must always accompany locks. When attaching a lockout information tag, it must contain the following information:

  • The identity of the employee applying the devices
  • A warning against hazardous conditions if the machine or equipment is energized, such as: Do Not Start, Do Not Open, Do Not Close, Do Not Energize, Do Not Operate

Why Are Lockout/Tagout and Machine Guarding Important?

The standards established by OSHA to protect workers from machine-related injuries are some of today’s most critical safety procedures. There are several reasons why these procedures are essential, including the following:

  • Prioritizing worker safety: Worker safety is always a primary concern for any organization. Machine guarding and lockout/tagout protocols can significantly reduce workplace injury or fatality incidences.
  • Protecting machinery: Workplace accidents can cause significant damage to machinery and employees, and heavy equipment is expensive to repair.
  • Minimizing downtime: Incidents or injuries in the workplace can result in costly downtime while the event is assessed. Hours or days of lost productivity can be highly detrimental to businesses.
  • Maintaining OSHA compliance: Lockout/tagout and machine guarding programs are a requirement in many workplaces. Failure to maintain compliance can result in significant fines.

Lockout/Tagout vs. Machine Guarding

Lockout/Tagout vs. Machine Guarding

Although these two safety systems aim to accomplish the same objective, there are differences between lockout/tagout and machine guarding. The most significant difference is that machine guarding is intended to safeguard workers during the routine operation of a machine, and lockout/tagout procedures should protect workers during machine maintenance.

In addition, machine guarding involves the placement of machines and barriers to shield workers from potentially hazardous events. Lockout/tagout involves controlling hazardous energy in various forms, including electrical power, mechanical energy, thermal and chemical energy, and pneumatic or hydraulic pressure.

What Are OSHA’s Machine Guarding Requirements?

Workers who use heavy and potentially hazardous machinery must be protected at the point of operation. In other words, they should be protected from injury while cutting and shaping objects and from sparks, rotating parts, flying chips, and any hazardous situations.

Machine guards must meet the following minimum general requirements:

  • Preventing contact: The safeguards must prevent any part of a worker’s body from coming into contact with hazardous moving parts. The best safeguarding systems eliminate the possibility of contact.
  • Reducing tampering: Employees should not be able to remove or tamper with safeguards — they should consist of material durable enough to withstand their intended use and sturdily secured to the machine.
  • Protecting workers from falling objects: Safeguards should prevent any objects from falling into the moving parts of a machine, as objects that fall into machines can become projectiles, causing severe injury.
  • Creating no new hazards or interference: Safeguards should protect workers from hazards, not create hazards of their own. They should not have jagged points, sheer edges, or unfinished surfaces that could cause injury. They should not interfere with workers’ ability to do their jobs and they should make workers more confident to work with the machine.
  • Allowing safe lubrication: Wherever possible, workers must be able to lubricate the machine without removing any safeguards.

Workers should receive comprehensive training on how to use safeguarding systems and why they are necessary. Training should involve the following elements:

  • The hazards associated with using the machines,
  • How the safeguards provide protection,
  • How to use safeguards and why,
  • When safeguards can be removed, who can remove them, how to remove them, and why, and
  • What to do if a safeguard is damaged or cannot provide them with protection.

Workers should receive training if they are new to operating a machine when new safeguards are incorporated into the workflow or if they are assigned to a new machine.

What Are OSHA’s Lockout/Tagout Requirements?

OSHA’s lockout/tagout standard is designed to help employers and safety managers control hazardous energy during the maintenance of machines. It is the employer’s responsibility to protect workers from hazardous energy by complying with the following requirements:

  • Training: Employers must train workers so they know, understand, and can follow lockout/tagout procedures. All workers must receive training in the purpose and function of the energy control program regarding worker safety. Hence, they have the skills to complete the process safely. They must also be trained to recognize energy hazards in the workplace and the means of isolating that energy.
  • Instruction: All employees that work in areas where energy control systems are in place must be instructed in the purpose and protocols of using the system, especially warnings against restarting locked and tagged-out equipment. They must know the specific procedures of the lockout/tagout process and be able to execute them.
  • Retraining: Workers must receive refresher training to remain proficient in the lockout/tagout system and further training if you introduce new energy control methods in the workplace.

Empower Your Workforce With NASP

Empower Your Workforce With NASP

Training is one of the most critical elements in lockout/tagout and machine guarding protocols. It instills your workforce with the confidence to operate and repair machinery and keep their fellow workers safe in potentially hazardous environments. The National Association of Safety Professionals offers dynamic and interactive training across industries to implement comprehensive safety and environmental management systems and programs to create a safe and healthy work environment.

NASP training is built for and by safety professionals. Our lockout/tagout specialist course and machine guarding specialist course will equip you with the knowledge and skills to safeguard machinery and prevent workplace accidents.

If you are searching for a ‘1-Stop-Shop’ on your lockout and machine guarding training, we encourage you to enroll in our 2-day Lockout Tagout Train-the-Trainer and/or our 2-day Machine Guarding Train-the-Trainer courses taking place in Orlando in December!

Contact us today to learn more about the Practical Approach to Workplace Safety.

Purchase Our Lockout Tagout Specialist (LTS) Course

About the Author


Pete Nemmers

Pete Nemmers serves as NASP’s Director of Training Development, bringing a wealth of expertise to the organization. With a background rooted in safety and training, Pete plays a pivotal role in shaping the training programs offered by NASP. Pete ensures that NASP remains at the forefront of safety education, equipping professionals with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate and excel in the dynamic field of safety.
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