How’s your Lockout Program Working?

For years, the basic rule in electrical safety has been to have a solid Lockout/Tag Out program. While this is a great method to control energy and works fairly well when properly implemented, it is also one of the most violated and easily manipulated standards in the workplace. The result is multiple deaths annually, and fines against employers that can substantially exceed $100,000.

Think about it: How often do electrical or maintenance workers fail to “control all energy sources” as described in the standard? How often do workers fail to follow written procedures because they intend to simply take a measurement or tighten a loose connection? The short answer is often and daily.

Just how often is plainly evident in any list of OSHA compliance citations. A simple search of OSHA’s website for “lockout citations” resulted in 15 pages of examples (see those search results for yourself here: http://alturl.com/95mcu). This in spite of the fact that lockout programs are supposedly a well understood – and perhaps the most basic of – electrical safety procedures. Why all the citations? Because facility managers are not enforcing, auditing or controlling the process. They have all the paper in place, but oftentimes without the benefit of training or enforcement. Lock Out programs work only when enforcement and zero tolerance are the norm rather than the exception.

So, here is another tough question for facility managers: Is it your policy that employees risk termination if Lock Out procedures are not followed to the letter? Do you enforce this policy? Do your employees believe you mean it? Because lives depend on it, this should become one of your organization’s highest priorities.

There are a couple of sure-fire ways to make sure you are (or aren’t) in full compliance: a) Wait until you have an incident; or b) Wait until you fail an OSHA compliance inspection. The better way is to call Mitchell & Lindsey before either a or b occur, and let us help you evaluate your safety program. It’s what we do.

When will we get it?

Our industry started to hear about this thing we call “arc flash” roughly 10 years ago, even though the NFPA 70E document had been around for many years before that.

As a result of this focus on arc flash, manufacturers of protective clothing have been telling us for years about the types and ratings of clothing systems intended to keep people safe and free from harm. Depending on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) would be a good plan if only it were true that clothing alone could protect your employees. In fact, PPE is one of many safety tools, but it should never be the sole focus of your workplace safety practices.

We in the safety world are all guilty of forgetting this basic rule, and we oftentimes rely first (and only) on the PPE applicable for a given task rather than looking for better methods that can even make PPE unnecessary.

It’s time we “get it” and insist on denergized equipment as the ultimate means of complying with NFPA 70E. If you are responsible for employee safety, you need to do your part and develop a better plan – or at least confirm that your plan is a solid one. Lives depend on it!

If you don’t have a plan, or if you are not sure that your plan is adequate, we at Mitchell and Lindsey can help ensure that your procedures comply with all applicable regulations and best practices. We specialize in the development and implementation of electrical safety programs. When employers use our methods, their employees go home safely each day. Give us a call at (502) 682-8491 to learn more.

What’s your excuse?

Is there any excuse for failing to enforce safe work practices when it comes to electrical safety? According to the St. Louis Area Director of OSHA, it is “inexcusable.”

The statement was included in an OSHA News Release about the electrocution of a 55-year-old worker who was retrieving a pair of work gloves that were stored in an electrical panel box. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the employee was found unconscious by a co-worker at a plant in St. Louis. The victim was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. OSHA inspectors subsequently visited the plant to investigate and cited the company.

A close examination of this tragic event reveals a few obvious – and some less obvious – concerns:

What’s obvious about this incident?

  • An employee needlessly lost his life, although loss of life was clearly avoidable.
  • The incident resulted in an unexpected compliance visit by OSHA.
  • OSHA cited the firm for 19 serious violations, and a total of 26 safety violations overall, many of which are very simple precautionary measures that could have prevented this incident.
  • The employer could not provide proper documentation or proof that training had been provided.
  • The proposed fines paid by this employer will likely exceed $50,000.

What’s not so obvious?

  • It’s likely the employer thought they were in compliance with OSHA regulations. At the very best, they thought their workplace was safe. At worst, they didn’t care. Regardless, someone lost their life.
  • There is in all likelihood a spouse – and perhaps children – who have lost a husband and father, who can no longer spend time with someone they love, and who wish they had more time with that person. This is more than tragic: A family likely has been broken, and a widow left behind to raise her children alone.
  • These loved ones will now try to seek closure while having to hear from the employer’s defense attorneys that their husband and father caused his own death by failing to follow proper procedures.
  • The company will pay a heavy price both financially, and in the public eye.

We all know that nobody intentionally allows or wants to see such incidents – whether it’s electrical shock, burns, dismemberment – or as in this worst-case scenario, death. We also know that ignorance, lack of funding, misunderstanding of regulatory requirements, or lack of time to deal with safety issues are not excuses. In fact, it’s quite simple: THERE IS NO EXCUSE!

Please do your part and insist on following safety procedures and safe work practices. I frequently remind my employees that I care enough to terminate their employment if they fail to follow procedures.

Mitchell and Lindsey specializes in these issues. If you have any questions about OSHA requirements and procedures, arc flash and its prevention, or about workplace safety in general, please call us. We are here to help. Remember, there is no excuse!