Controlling Hazardous Energy with Lockout/Tagout—Common Challenges and Best Practices

We have found that only about 10 percent of companies run effective lockout programs. In fact, we have observed that up to three-out-of-ten employers have no lockout program at all.

Workers began to specialize in operating and maintaining machinery in the Industrial Revolution. And quickly, consequences occurred: Those workers were increasingly injured or killed while servicing this equipment. This spurred improvement in the design of machinery to shield people from the dangerous work they performed.

The early efforts of the National Safety Council and similar organizations to raise awareness of the importance of machine guarding reduced the rate of accidents that were suffered while machinery was operating. But when these machine guards were removed to repair or service that equipment, a disturbingly high number of incidents continued to take place as equipment suddenly started up or released dangerous flows of energy, taking operators and other personnel by surprise. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) began looking at these causes of injuries and fatalities in the 1970s and published its first guidance on controlling hazardous energy with the practice of lockout or tagout in 1982. The ANSI Z244.1 lockout standard became the inspiration for the OSHA regulation of 1989 requiring employers to put procedures in place to protect their workers by fully isolating machinery from the energy sources that drive them.

Despite the requirements of OSHA 29 CFR 1910.147 and other related federal and state regulations, incidents continue to occur at a pace that makes violations of the lockout/tagout requirements perennially one of OSHA’s most frequently cited regulations, as well as one of the costliest.

What Makes Lockout Compliance So Difficult?
Twenty-eight years after the OSHA lockout regulation went into effect, the law remains one of the most challenging for employers to successfully facilitate in their workplaces. From our years of field experience at facilities in many industries, we at The Master Lock Company have found that only about 10 percent of companies run effective lockout programs – defined as meeting or exceeding compliance requirements with lockout being practiced routinely each time it is indicated by the hazards of the tasks being performed. In fact, we have observed that up to three-out-of-ten employers have no lockout program at all.