First of all…. What is hazardous energy?
Hazardous energy is energy sources like electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal or other sources found in machines and equipment that can be hazardous to workers. These energy sources can become dangerous during the servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment, when the unexpected startup or release of stored energy could cause injury to employees.
What are the harmful effects of hazardous energy?
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) says that workers servicing or maintaining machines or equipment may be seriously injured or killed if hazardous energy is not properly controlled. Injuries resulting from the failure to control hazardous energy during maintenance activities can be serious or even fatal! Injuries may include electrocution, burns, crushing, cutting, lacerating, amputating, or fracturing body parts, and others. Here are some examples:
- A steam valve is automatically turned on, causing severe burns to workers who are repairing a downstream connection in the piping.
- A jammed conveyor system suddenly releases and crushes a worker who is trying to clear the jam.
- Internal wiring on a piece of factory equipment electrically shorts shocking employee who is repairing the equipment.
Failure to control hazardous energy accounts for nearly 10% of the serious accidents in many industries. Craft workers, electricians, machine operators, and laborers are among the 3 million workers who service equipment routinely and face the greatest risk of injury. Additionally, workers injured on the job from exposure to hazardous energy lose an average of 24 workdays for recuperation, according to OSHA.
What can be done to control hazardous energy?
Proper lockout/tagout (LOTO) practices and procedures safeguard workers from the release of hazardous energy. OSHA's Lockout/Tagout fact sheet describes the practices and procedures necessary to disable machinery or equipment to prevent the release of hazardous energy. The OSHA standard for The Control of Hazardous Energy for general industry outlines measures for controlling different types of hazardous energy, and the LOTO standard establishes the employer's responsibility to protect workers from hazardous energy.
Employers are also required to train each worker to ensure that they know, understand, and are able to follow the applicable provisions of the hazardous energy control procedures:
- Workers must be trained in the purpose and function of the energy control program and have the knowledge and skills required for the safe application, usage and removal of the energy control devices.
- All employees who work in the area where the energy control procedure(s) are utilized need to be instructed in the purpose and use of the energy control procedure(s) and about the prohibition against attempting to restart or reenergize machines or equipment that is locked or tagged out.
- All employees who are authorized to lockout machines or equipment and perform the service and maintenance operations need to be trained in recognition of applicable hazardous energy sources in the workplace, the type and magnitude of energy found in the workplace, and the means and methods of isolating and/or controlling the energy.
- Specific procedures and limitations relating to tagout systems where they are allowed.
- Retraining of all employees to maintain proficiency or introduce new or changed control methods.