OSHA Looking into Changes to LOTO Rule

Posted January 7, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Machine lockout/tagout regulations could be changed under a proposed rulemaking to allow more flexibility in how workers are protected from equipment unexpectedly starting. The changes will hopefully give plant managers more options to the lockout/tagout rule. Instead of shutting down entire processing lines by cutting off a machine's power source, TRSA believes an equivalent level of safety is possible by controlling power for the section of machine that needs to be stopped while tasks are performed.

If enacted, the potential rule change would reduce the time and money lost by commercial laundry operators because processing lines would be idled less often. In its fall 2015 regulatory agenda OSHA announced it would consider changes to lockout/tagout regulations. The agency said it was considering either issuing a request for information or holding a meeting with industry experts and others.

The notice released in the agenda said, in part: “Recent technological advancements that employ computer-based controls of hazardous energy (e.g., mechanical, electrical, pneumatic, chemical, radiation) conflict with OSHA's existing lockout/tagout standard. The use of these computer-based controls has become more prevalent as equipment manufacturers modernize their designs. Additionally, there are international standards harmonization concerns since this method of lockout/tagout is more accepted in other nations.”

One of the essential differences between OSHA and proponents of revising the rule concerns when an “energy-isolating device” must be used and under what circumstances alternative methods are allowed. Currently, if OSHA inspects a plant and finds energy-control devices being used instead of energy-isolating devices, in most circumstances inspectors will likely issue citations.

OSHA's lockout/tagout rule requires, in part, that a designated worker turns off and disconnects the machinery or equipment from its energy source before performing service or maintenance and that the authorized worker either lock or tag the energy-isolating device. OSHA defines an energy-isolating device as a mechanical device that physically prevents the transmission or release of energy, including manually operated electrical circuit breakers, disconnect switches and line valves. Among the control devices OSHA doesn't consider to be energy isolating are push buttons and selector switches.

Proponents of a rule change want OSHA to accept appropriately designed energy-control devices and systems as an effective alternative method to lockout. These are systems that, in tandem with detailed procedures, allow workers to control power to just sections of processing lines, and not the entire line. OSHA's difficulty is that the agency doesn't have a method for evaluating the effectiveness of energy-control systems since the lockout/tagout rule prohibits their use in most circumstances.

A revised lockout/tagout rule could give OSHA the ability to allow appropriately designed energy-control systems to be used in industry, yet keep workers safe from the unexpected startup or energization of equipment.