Safety Moment #6: Lockout Tagout: Fall through Hatch

Lockout Tagout

This Safety Moment and the matching YouTube video shows an incident in which a person working in an office or store falls through an open hatch. Information provided later suggests that she was not significantly injured. 

Lessons learned include:

  1. Lockout-Tagout applies to all situations, not just the management of highly hazardous chemicals.
  2. No barriers of any type were placed around the open hatch.
  3. This appears to be a routine activity suggesting that improvements to operating procedures and training are needed. It may also be a case where disciplinary action is called for.

Note: It was reported later that the lady who fell through the hatch was not seriously injured.

Lockout / Tagout

Lockout/tagout systems are routinely used to protect workers when they are working with or close to hazardous systems. They are routinely used in conjunction with the other isolation methods. Once a switch or valve is in the correct position it is locked so that it cannot be moved, and a “Do Not Operate” tag is attached to it. (Valves are often chained in place, with the lock being used to secure the chain such that the valve handle cannot be moved.)

In spite of the security that a lockout system provides, it is less safe than the use of positive isolation methods. First a valve may leak while it is in the closed position. Second, in spite of all precautions, someone may remove the lock before the work has been finished. There is also a chance of confusion; the wrong valve may be chained closed, while the valve that should have been secured is left in its normal operating state.

Lockout/tagout is not normally used for routine operating activities such as collecting samples, replacing pressures gauges, or making equipment checks and adjustments. However, it is used on some systems in normal operation, e.g., pressure safety valves locked open or containment drain valves locked closed. Similarly, lockout/tagout is not used for plug connections on electrical equipment because the hazard can be controlled simply by unplugging the equipment. (However, the plug that has been detached must be properly controlled so that no one inadvertently puts it back in the socket.)

Lockout/tagout does not normally apply to handheld power tools or stationary equipment whose electrical power may be controlled by the unplugging of equipment from the energy source when the plug and cord are under the control of the employee performing the servicing or maintenance.

Once the system has been prepared for work, and the locks have been applied, the system must be verified. If it is a motor that is being worked on, e.g., the area should be cleared in case the isolation procedures fails, and then an attempt should be made to run the motor. If it is a valve that is being locked closed, the safety lead should try to open it after the locks and chains have been applied. Some companies use the phrase lock, tag, and verify to describe this process.