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Managing lockout/tagout programs

April 1, 2013

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What are the best tools for managing large-scale lockout/tagout programs?

Responding is John Hagerbaumer, vice president of operations, ESC Services Inc., Franklin, WI.

The larger the company, the larger the problem when it comes to lockout/tagout compliance.

Take a small company with 10 pieces of equipment under one roof. The company simply needs to use an MS Word document to create procedures in-house, audit them annually, train employees and make sure the program is kept up as new equipment comes on board. In addition to locks, tags and a corporate policy, the program won’t change by more than one to two pieces a year at the most.

A larger company with more than 1,000 pieces of equipment and more than two locations around the United States needs a much different solution to become – and stay – compliant. With an average annual equipment change rate of 15-20 percent in the United States, it’s no surprise that even the best lockout/tagout programs fall apart in a matter of months if there is no plan for sustainability – that is, making the updates to the procedures as the equipment changes.

So what is the solution for large companies with more than 1,000 procedures and more than two locations? The best tools for large-scale lockout/tagout programs should have the following characteristics:

  • Use non-proprietary software as a foundation, such as MS Word or MS Excel. This will give your program a life span of decades, rather than a year or two when your old software becomes obsolete or the supporting company decides to no longer support it.
  • Use subject-matter experts to develop a lockout/tagout program that is perfectly homogenous and compliant so you have a good base point from which to start. So many times, large companies have programs that differ from site to site, and that is just begging for an accident or OSHA citation.
  • Avoid cloud-based web platforms as a foundation for procedures and audit data because it is the same as proprietary software. If the website goes down or is no longer supported, then you just lost your entire investment. If a web platform is used, it must be a complement to your program and not the heart of it.
  • Take advantage of a tablet-based tool to access, update and maintain the program. This will reduce the cost of printing procedures, is greener for the environment, encourages employees to use and maintain the program, and overall is much safer because procedural updates can occur in real-time and the program’s status can be accessed from any portal. Be sure that the tablet-based solution you select is a sideline tool to more easily maintain your program.
  • Rely on third-party audits, as much as is affordable, by subject matter experts. By using third-party audits, you can be assured that you have a non-biased expert opinion of how your program measures up so you can correct deviations before they become accidents.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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