Lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedure: 10 straightforward steps to begin with

Lockout-tagout (LOTO) or lock and tag is a safety procedure which is used in industry and research settings to ensure that dangerous machines are properly shut off and not able to be started up again prior to the completion of maintenance or servicing work.

Lockout/tagout procedure (often labeled as “LOTO procedure” or “lockout/tagout”) is one of the top ten most frequently cited standards by the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). That means, LOTO standards compliance is often inspected and controlled by OSHA and eventually may result in hefty fines for companies that do not meet the policy.

And it’s not a surprise. Properly implemented lockout/tagout programs can prevent many injuries, illnesses, and even deaths occurring in workplaces. So, what does the lockout/tagout program include and how to start with its implementation? We looked at the official materials from OSHA and CDC to bring a detailed overview to everyone interested in the topic.

What is a lockout/tagout procedure?

Lockout/tagout (LOTO) is a technique used to prevent energy from being released during the servicing of equipment. The procedure is executed in several steps in which an authorized employee ensures that equipment is properly shut down and any potentially dangerous stored energy is isolated and released prior to maintenance.

LOTO procedure also includes placing tags and locks on energy isolation devices (e.g., power switches, control valves) to prevent their unauthorized use during the servicing of a machine. This process ensures that the equipment is shut down and inoperable until workers complete the planned action.

Who needs to comply with LOTO OSHA standards?

Generally, U.S. companies must meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. OSHA covers almost all private sector businesses within the 50 states and other territories of the U.S. Employers need to make sure that workplaces have the appropriate safety precautions in place. They should also work on minimizing short- and long-term hazards that can threaten the physical and mental health of employees.

10 steps to implement lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedure:

Stage: Preparation of a lockout/tagout program

  1. Develop and document machinery energy control procedures

To begin with a LOTO procedure, you need to identify devices and machinery to which hazardous energy control programs will apply. Document a step-by-step process for correct shutting down and restarting of this equipment, include its location and details that will help eliminate possible dangerous actions.

You should be as specific as possible in this step as the documentation will provide fundamental guidelines to authorized employees. Depending on the complexity of the equipment and its application, proper procedure documentation may vary from one to many pages.

OSHA explains what should be included in the documents as follows:

  • A statement on how to use the procedures;
  • Specific procedural steps to shut down, isolate, block, and secure machines;
  • Specific steps designating the safe placement, removal, and transfer of lockout/tagout devices and identifying who has responsibility for the lockout/tagout devices; and
  • Specific requirements for testing machines to determine and verify the effectiveness of lockout devices, tagout devices, and other energy-control measures.
  1. Select and train employees authorized to use LOTO procedures

Every worker should have a clear understanding of when energy control procedures apply, but personnel who perform the maintenance should be also qualified to use the procedures. The authorized employees must be trained to understand the hazards and how to implement safety measures to mitigate risks.

Stage: LOTO application

  1. Prepare for the machinery lockout/tagout

Before the actual shut down of machinery, authorized personnel have to notify all affected employees about planned maintenance or servicing, and that energy control procedures will be applied. Provide exact information about the time and duration of the maintenance and update them if any changes were made during the process. This step is necessary to prevent unexpected attempts of equipment re-energization.

  1. Shut down

In this step, an authorized employee will shut down the equipment using a standardized procedure (e.g., power switch) documented in the guidelines.

  1. Isolation of energy sources

Workers then locate and isolate all energy sources of the equipment. This may include actions such as turning off power cables or shutting a valve.

  1. Lock and tag placement

After full isolation of machinery from energy sources, authorized personnel attach lockout and tagout devices to parts that can be used for re-energization. This can include electric breaker panels or control valves. The locks and tags are necessary to prevent manipulation of equipment from unauthorized employees.

Lock Out, Tag Out with a danger tag. Electrical and machine system and safety equipment. There is a Danger and Do Not Remove warning.

Each individual authorized for locking or tagging a machine should use signed or person-specific locks or tags, so everyone knows who placed them. A worker who places the devices should be also the only one allowed to remove them according to OSHA guidelines.

  1. Stored energy release

Even after proper shutdown and equipment lockout procedures implementation, machines can possess safety risks because of the stored residual energy. For example, spring tension, heated liquids, or venting gases could be accidentally released during maintenance and thus need to be handled beforehand. Workers should also secure all moving parts that posses safety hazards throughout the maintenance.

  1. Energy isolation verification

In the last step before the maintenance itself, authorized personnel should inspect the proper application of the previous steps. The machinery is shut down, all energy sources are isolated, locks and tags are in place, and residual energy is released. After the successful inspection, workers can proceed with maintenance.

Stage: LOTO removal

  1. Equipment re-energization

After technicians complete the maintenance, an authorized employee verifies that all workers are aware of the planned re-energization and that they are positioned safely on the worksite. It is also necessary to remove all tools and repair equipment. This process includes removing the tags and locks by the same person that placed them, and reenergizing the machine.

  1. Procedure update

The best practice of the lockout/tagout procedure includes at least annual updates of the documentation and equipment inspections. Make sure your guidelines are always up-to-date and follow the latest OSHA standards.

Yellow lockout tagout cabinet in an electrical substation

Bonus step:

  • Process standardization with inspection software

Inspection software can automate various processes within the LOTO procedure thanks to checklists, mobile forms, inspection reports, or appointment management. For example, authorized personnel can use mobile software throughout all the steps of shutting down and re-energization of equipment. With a tailor-made lockout/tagout checklist, they can check if all necessary steps were completed correctly and in the right order.

Digitalization of these processes also enhances data collection standardization and offers real-time updates for managers and supervisors, who can further streamline their lockout/tagout procedures. Furthermore,  the free 30-day trial of Resco Inspections comes with a free OSH risk template that you can easily customize for LOTO scenarios as well.

Starting with a LOTO program

OSHA standards help to prevent injuries and deaths occurring in the workplace. By developing good lockout/tagout procedures and following protocols, companies can ensure employee safety and government rules compliance. If you are just starting with LOTO, make sure to follow the latest recommendations and guidelines from OSHA. And whether you’re just implementing or already running a LOTO program, check out Resco Inspections to achieve further standardization and streamlining of your procedures.