Lockout/Tagout: Critical Steps to Prevent Workplace Hazards

lockout_tagout_programWorkplace safety is of utmost importance in every organization. Employers are responsible for providing a safe and secure work environment for their employees. However, workplace accidents can occur despite best efforts to mitigate risks. Lockout/tagout, commonly known as LOTO, is a crucial program designed to protect workers from hazardous energy sources during maintenance, servicing, or repair of equipment. In this article, we will discuss the importance of lockout/tagout procedures in ensuring workplace safety and preventing accidents caused by hazardous energy sources.

What Is A Lockout/Tagout Program?

Lockout and tagout, commonly referred to as LOTO, is a crucial OSHA standard that regulates the control of hazardous energy. Its primary objective is to protect employees by establishing necessary measures for disabling machinery or equipment that could release hazardous energy or start unexpectedly, potentially causing severe harm or even death to workers during machinery maintenance or work.

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Lockouts and tagouts entail specific practices and procedures designed to isolate machinery energy hazards by de-energizing and locking out the equipment’s ability to power on.

Failure to adhere to lockout/tagout regulations is one of OSHA’s top 10 most common violations. Non-compliance with regulations not only results in fines, but also creates hazardous situations for employees and everyone in the work environment.

It’s crucial to take lockout/tagout procedures seriously. Failure to follow the prescribed procedures and requirements can lead to grave injuries or fatalities caused by machinery and equipment. OSHA estimates that compliance with lockout/tagout standards can prevent 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries every year.

Understanding Lockout/Tagout: Locks and Tags

The primary purpose of locks and tags in lockout/tagout procedures is to physically secure each energy isolation point to prevent the equipment from being energized during maintenance or repair. Locks, along with devices like chains, hasps, and blind flanges, are used to immobilize the equipment, whereas tags serve as warning devices to highlight that the equipment is locked out.

While locks are the preferred method for ensuring lockout/tagout compliance, there may be instances where locks cannot be used on certain equipment. In such cases, alternative systems will be in place to provide a level of protection equivalent to lockout/tagout. Additionally, there are exceptions to lockout/tagout requirements, such as machines that can be unplugged while under the control of an authorized person.

Roles in Lockout/Tagout Procedures

Lockout/tagout systems involve two categories of workers: authorized personnel and affected individuals. An authorized worker is someone who possesses the required knowledge, training, and experience to carry out hazardous energy control procedures. Prior to initiating any repair or maintenance work on the equipment, the authorized person must inform all affected employees that lockout/tagout procedures will be implemented.

The designated repair person or machine operator typically serves as the authorized worker, who is responsible for placing locks and tags, managing the keys to the locks utilized, and is the only one authorized to remove locks or tags after the work is complete. Any worker whose job is impacted by the equipment being out of service and who is not involved in lockout/tagout or maintenance activities is considered an affected person. Additionally, workers who work in the same area are also classified as affected if their job responsibilities are disrupted by the equipment’s shutdown.

Hazardous Energy Control

Equipment can be powered by various energy sources, some of which are evident, such as electricity, heat, and gravitational energy. However, some sources, such as tightly wound springs or air pressure in a pneumatic system, may not be apparent. To control hazardous energy, it is necessary to isolate the system from both its primary power source and any stored energy in the system.

After the energy sources have been isolated, some machines may still store energy. For instance, capacitors may hold electrical energy, while machines running on hydraulic or pneumatic energy can retain pressure between a closed energy isolation device and the machine’s moving parts. Similarly, machines using chemical energy may still have fuel in their lines.

Other components, such as springs, tension belts, and moving parts like pistons, may also contain stored mechanical or gravitational energy. Before beginning repair or maintenance work, it is essential to discharge and disengage all stored energy and block any moving parts securely in place or lower them so that they cannot move during maintenance.

Preparing For Lockouts

To ensure the safety of your employees and stay compliant with OSHA regulations, it’s crucial to prepare for lockout/tagout procedures well in advance. This involves writing energy-control procedures for all equipment, that outline the scope, authorization, rules, and techniques employees will use.

Energy-control procedures should include:

  • How to use procedures
  • Steps to shut down, isolate, block, and secure machines
  • Steps to place and remove lockout tagout devices
  • How to identify responsibility for lockout tagout devices
  • A process for testing machines to verify lockout devices and other energy-control measures are effective

In order to stay compliant, you must train employees who work with machines and equipment so they know their LOTO duties and understand the OSHA standard.

Best Practices for Lockout Tagout 

The OSHA standards for The Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout), Title 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1910.147 and 1910.333, establish guidelines for disabling machinery during maintenance work and protecting workers from electrical circuits or equipment.

To comply with the standards, you must implement a lockout or tagout program that ensures the equipment is taken offline, locked into an “off” position, and tagged with the name of the authorized person responsible for removing the lock.

The following are the basic requirements outlined in the standards:

(It’s important to note that these are just basic guidelines and not a comprehensive list and that specific requirements may vary depending on the type of equipment and industry. You need to check the OSHA guidelines and your state regulations.)

Employers are required to develop, implement, and enforce an energy control program and procedures.

  • Lockout devices must be used to disable machinery from releasing hazardous energy whenever possible. If not, tagout devices may be used with equal protection to lockout programs.
  • Lockout/tagout devices must be protective, substantial, and authorized for the machinery.
  • All new, refurbished, or overhauled equipment must be capable of being locked out.
  • Each user of lockout/tagout devices must be identified, and only the employee who initiated the lockout may remove it.
  • Effective training on hazardous energy control procedures, workplace energy control plans, and OSHA requirements for lockout/tagout must be provided to all employees who work on, around, and with heavy machinery and equipment.
  • Training must be repeated annually.
  • Energy control procedures and initiatives must be regularly inspected.

Employers are responsible for implementing a safe and effective lockout/tagout system to protect their employees from workplace accidents caused by hazardous energy. These are basic guidelines, and specific requirements may vary.

General Lockout/Tagout Procedures

While each company should have a documented lockout/tagout program tailored to their policies and equipment, a general lockout/tagout procedure typically involves the following steps:

Step 1: Notify Affected Employees 

Authorized personnel must inform all affected employees about the impending shutdown of equipment or machines. Employees must be informed that the equipment will be shut down and locked out before maintenance can occur. This is the first step in initiating the Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) procedure process.

Step 2: Identify Procedure & Hazards 

The authorized person will inform all affected personnel about the impending lockout/tagout operation, including:

  • The equipment to be locked out and tagged
    • Energy Type (electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, thermal, pneumatic, chemical)
    • Energy magnitude (volts, temp, psi, etc.)
    • Energy hazards
    • Methods to control the energy
  • Why the equipment is being locked and tagged
  • How long do they expect the equipment to be out of service
  • Who affected employees can contact us for more information

Step 3: Shut Down

When stopping a machine or system, it is important to follow a specific sequence of steps to ensure an orderly shutdown and avoid additional hazards caused by abrupt stopping. The first step is for affected personnel to leave the area, and then the authorized person should shut down the machine or system. This can be accomplished through normal stopping procedures like pushing a STOP button, flipping a switch to an OFF position, or closing a valve. These steps are listed in a particular order, so employees need to pay attention to the exact sequence.

Step 4: Isolate Machine From Energy Source

This step requires isolating the machine or equipment from its source by using energy-isolating devices.

It’s important to note these devices are not the normal operating controls. Energy-isolating devices should physically prevent the transmission of energy. Examples include a circuit breaker, valves, switches, blank flanges for piping systems, restraining devices to prevent movement of parts; etc.

ON/OFF and STOP buttons do not qualify as energy-isolating devices.

Step 5: Apply Lockout/Tagout  Devices

This step prevents the manipulation of equipment or accidental startup. It’s accomplished in two steps: Lockout and Tagout. 


A lockout tagout device (e.g., breaker or ball valve lockout) holds the energy isolating device in a SAFE / OFF position. Safety padlocks (key or combination) then prevent the removal of the energy-isolating device to ensure energy cannot flow from its source to the machine. Assigned locks should be applied to each energy-isolation device.


Tagout refers to using a tagout device on an energy-isolating device. It should be securely fastened to the isolating device to indicate the energy-isolating device and equipment may not be operated until the tag is removed. Essentially, it warns others not to restore energy. The tag should include the name of the employee who applied it and why. That way, if anyone has questions as to why the equipment is locked out, they know who to ask.

Personal locks and tags should be used on: Line valves, circuit breakers / electrical disconnects, safety blocks on moveable parts, and blank flanges on pipelines.

Step 6: Stored Energy Check

Once energy-isolating devices are locked out, this step requires checking for stored energy. All residual energy must be removed or drained from the equipment to ensure it’s in a controlled state. Examples include springs, capacitors, elevated machine members, hydraulic systems, rotating flywheels, air, gas, steam or water pressure, etc. If residual energy remains in a system, it’s a safety risk. You’ll need to relieve pressure, bleed liquids, vent gasses and release tension in compressed springs until the energy is dissipated.

Step 7: Verify Isolation

This step is critical and can save lives.

To ensure equipment is safely disconnected from its energy source, it’s crucial to perform testing. However, before doing so, ensure that no personnel is at risk of exposure to energy hazards. Then, proceed to test the equipment by attempting to operate it, such as by pushing an ON button or checking the gauges. Once isolation has been confirmed, return the control or button to the OFF position

Step 8: Equipment Repaired

When the machine or equipment has been serviced or repaired, it’s time to get the work area and personnel ready for startup. Procedures must be followed in the correct order.

  • Ensure that the machine or equipment is reassembled entirely, with guards and safety devices reinstalled, and access panels closed. Then, verify that no tools are left in the work area.
  • Conduct a survey of the work area to ensure that all personnel are in a safe location or have vacated the area.
  • Confirm that all controls are in the neutral position.
  • Remove the tags and lockout devices using the same person who installed them.
  • Notify affected personnel that the maintenance or servicing has been completed, and the equipment is ready for use. 

The Future

As time goes by, it’s common for lockout/tagout procedures to undergo changes. Whenever changes are made, it’s important to update employees and ensure they fully understand the new procedures, even if they’re minor. Additionally, all personnel should stay up-to-date with the latest OSHA standards. It’s advisable to review and revise lockout/tagout procedures annually as part of your energy program. This will enable you to refine descriptions and make procedural adjustments for greater efficiency and safety.

Lockout/Tagout and Maintenance Safety 

Lockout/tagout procedures are crucial for meeting regulatory requirements and ensuring the safety of maintenance technicians and others. With eWorkOrders’ CMMS software, maintenance organizations can easily track LOTO procedures and maintain compliance with industry standards.

The CMMS software stores all LOTO documentation, making it easily accessible to maintenance employees. LOTO instructions can also be included on work orders, ensuring that technicians are reminded of the importance of lockout/tagout procedures before starting any work. During maintenance audits, the CMMS software provides documented proof that all LOTO procedures were followed, ensuring that your organization stays compliant and your employees stay safe.


Lockout/tagout procedures should never be disregarded or treated lightly, as failure to de-energize, lock, and tag a machine before working on it could lead to severe injury or even death if someone restarts the machine while a worker is still working on it. Thus, it is crucial to ensure that employees in your organization are trained on lockout/tagout procedures in their respective work areas, as their lives and limbs could be at stake.

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