Basic Considerations for Electrical Lockout/Tagout

Lockout/tagout is one of those “good news-bad news” safety topics. The good news is that most companies are generally doing a better job of addressing lockout/tagout issues than they are other safety concerns. The bad news is lockout/tagout programs for plant electrical systems, for the most part, are still not as well defined as those for other energy sources. This article presents basic considerations that will help you establish a workable electrical lockout/tagout program at your facility.

First, understand that an electrical lockout/tagout program is not an option. Electrical lockout/tagout falls under workplace electrical safety and the overall electrical safety program mandated by OSHA and the NFPA. What’s more, NFPA 70E stipulates this program should be a documented program. Each facility should have an electrical lockout/tagout program, and this program needs to be on paper, not just in peoples’ heads. If you aren’t comfortable developing and documenting your lockout/tagout program, enlist the services of a knowledgeable professional.

Along with this, realize that an effective electrical lockout/tagout program isn’t simply your mechanical lockout/tagout program with the word electrical substituted for the word mechanical. Electrical lockout/tagout has a specific goal—the electrically safe work condition. The electrically safe work condition is a unique safety plan that must address the standards NFPA 70E has mandated:

  • The conductor or circuit part has been disconnected from energized parts.
  • It has been lock/tagged according to established standards.
  • It has been tested to verify that voltage is absent.
  • It has been properly grounded, if this is deemed necessary.

For a complete electrical lockout/tagout program, lockout/tagout procedures should be developed for each piece of equipment whose circuitry may be accessed by maintenance personnel. Naturally, the details of these procedures will vary, but all should state what the procedure is intended to accomplish. Additionally, they should specify that only a qualified electrical worker is authorized to perform the electrical lockout/tagout. Like the electrical lockout/tagout program, itself, these procedures should be documented.

Related to this is accessibility. To make proper use of the electrical lockout/tagout program and procedures, workers must have ready access to these documents. In this situation, redundancy is not a bad thing. Post or store your program/procedures in as many places as is practical so your personnel can easily find them: online, file cabinets, special notebooks, local work areas, etc. Remember, though, if you change a document in one location, make sure you also update it in all locations.

Ensure your electrical lockout/tagout program is comprehensive. Setting up a program for simple lockouts/tagouts—one worker, one piece of equipment—is not too difficult. Establishing a program that effectively addresses complex lockouts/tagouts— ones that involve multiple personnel and many forms of energy (hydraulics, steam, etc.), or ones that extend across shifts—is a different matter. Who is responsible for the entire lockout/tagout operation? How are the various types of energy coordinated during the lockout/tagout? How are shift changes handled? To be complete, your electrical lockout/tagout program should answer these and other similar questions.

An electrical lockout/tagout program must include certain tools and training to make it workable. Electrical maintenance workers should be trained in both electrical lockout/tagout and general electrical safety so they can recognize their responsibilities while on the job. They also require an adequate supply of electrical locks and tags that are for their personal use only (i.e., no “community” locks and tags). Additionally, they need access to the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), and they need to understand when they must use the PPE (e.g., when pulling a cutout or a large breaker) and when they can remove it (e.g., after an electrical circuit has been de-energized, tested, locked, and tagged).

Finally, an electrical lockout/tagout program is not a one-time, static event. Because your electrical system and electrical safety practices continually change, your electrical lockout/ tagout program should be audited yearly to ensure it is adequate for the present state of your electrical system and that it aligns with the most recent OSHA requirements for electrical safety. Again, if you aren’t comfortable conducting this audit yourself, contact a professional.

D.L. Steiner will be happy to assist you in setting up a standards compliant electrical lockout/tagout program. Contact us today for more information.