A man died in an accident in which he was dragged through a mixing machine at a Cartersville Georgia recycling plant in March of this year. The 40 year old worker had been cleaning the machine when he was caught in a roller wheel that pulled his body through the machine. It seems that the cause of the accident was a well-known hazard called unexpected machine startup. This hazard is common in factories, assembly lines, and other settings with large stationary machinery that require routine maintenance. According to OSHA:
“Approximately 3 million workers service equipment and face the greatest risk of injury if lockout/tagout is not properly implemented. Compliance with the lockout/tagout standard prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year.”
Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) Procedure and Workplace Safety
The quote above refers to the “lockout/tagout standard.” Here we discuss what this means and why it is essential to proper workplace safety practice. Again, according to OSHA:
“’Lockout/Tagout (LOTO)’ refers to specific practices and procedures to safeguard workers from the unexpected energization or startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities.” The procedure consists of the certain general requirements, with specific details varying based on the type of equipment, facility, and the type of maintenance required. The OSHA standards governing the general procedure may be summarized as follows:
Step One: Identify the Equipment
Authorized workers maintenance workers should lockout and tagout machines prior to performing service or maintenance. This process involves the use of locks and tags designated specifically for this purpose. Each lock and tag must bear the name of the worker performing the maintenance.
Step Two: Isolate the Energy
The worker performing the maintenance must identify and isolate all power sources. This generally involves physically separating the energy conduction materials from the energy source. In the case of electronically powered systems, it means removing plugs from outlets. With other types of machinery, it would involve isolating and cutting off the fuel supply. Once this is done, the machine is run to discharge any stored or residual energy. When this is complete, the equipment should be safe to work on.
Step Three: Verify
However, after this initial process, the maintenance worker should double check to ensure that all power sources are isolated. This is generally done by turning the machine on (flipping the on/off switch or equivalent action, depending on the machinery). If this can be performed without starting the machine, the machine is safe to work on.
Step Four: Safely Perform Maintenance
The locks or tags placed on the power sources should remain on them throughout the entire maintenance process. This ensures, for instance, that plugs are not reinserted into outlets by another worker who is unaware of the maintenance activity, by putting all other workers who may happen upon the machine on notice (in the case of tags) or by physically preventing reconnection (in the case of locks). Once the maintenance is complete, only the worker performing the maintenance may remove the locks or tags.
The above summary is highly generalized, and many of the details will vary depending on the equipment. But the general principles are clear: The equipment being serviced must be identified, the energy sources must be isolated, inability to power up should be verified, and the machine should be inoperable throughout the maintenance process. Each facility will have to determine how these procedures apply to their particular type of equipment, but the general principles will remain the same.
If followed diligently, these procedures should prevent most incidents of unexpected energization, as they tend to ensure that the machine is not powered up while being maintained due to the sudden release of stored energy or to another worker unwittingly turning on the machine. In short, the procedure isolates power sources and identifies the worker servicing the equipment. This enables coordination among workers (to prevent human error) and reduces the risk of stored power being released without warning.
Unexpected machine startups present a serious threat of crushing, amputation, maiming, and death. As such, their prevention by LOTO procedures should be a high priority of any employer running a facility where such equipment is operated.
Contact a Georgia Workers’ Compensation Attorney
If you have been injured by an unexpected machine startup or other workplace accident, contact the workplace injury attorneys at the Bader Law Firm, LLC. Even if your injury was caused by your mistake or the mistake of a co-worker, you are still entitled to workers’ compensation payments. Do not let shame or embarrassment keep you from pursuing the benefits you deserve. Accidents happen – the law is on your side. Get help today.