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Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) in the Digital Age

Hi, I'm Jill. Chief Safety Officer with Vivid Learning Systems. I'm a former OSHA inspector, and I'm here to help you identify and correct workplace safety hazards. For this series, we're at Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in the heart of the upper mid-West to show you no matter where you work, safety is for everyone.

While many of us understand and practice traditional lockout/tagout procedures, technology can introduce energy sources we may not think of, and technology can bring additional safeguards to traditional lockout procedures.

Today I'm with Vic, who is an instrumentation tech here at the Beet Sugar Cooperative. Thank you so much for being with us.

You're welcome.

So Vic, can you tell us what sorts of energy is controlled from a control room like this?

There would be electrical.

Okay.

Hydraulic pressures. Pneumatic and steam pressures, for the most part.

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And they're all controlled electronically from in this facility?

Yes. Yeah.

Yeah. With all the background and the people that are watching constantly throughout the day?

Yeah.

Okay. So, is someone's eyes always on these power sources?

Someone's eyes are always on this process, 24/7.

Okay. So, let's say you have to maybe change out a valve here. What would be the process that you would go through to identify your energy sources, and who would you work with? Like what sort of team would you bring together to do that?

Well it would be the person involved with the valve replacement actually, and it would be myself and a control room operator. We also have a process person, the foreman. They would all be aware of the valve needing to be replaced.

And then what about, how would you go about finding the different energy sources?

Well the energy sources, whether it would be steam, pneumatic, hydraulic, those are obviously connected to the valve whether it be pneumatic. And so you would follow the source back to the valve and isolate it.

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And isolate it from there. And then, you have written lockout step-by-step procedures-

We have written lockout/tagout procedures that any operator or person can find them, and it's a procedure. You just follow it through and make sure everything's been locked out and tagged out.

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). And then each individual places their own individual lock?

Yes. Every person involved with the process would put their personal lock on the lockout/tagout box. So everybody would know who is involved in the procedure, so that everybody is safe.

So you get all the energy sources, you think turned off and de-energized, and then you have a control room like this. So, how does the control room then work with you? Do you do some verification and testing? How does that work?

Yeah. The control room operator or the person would call to the control room to ask if there would be a start button, and if there was not then he would say that it's safe. There is no potential hazard.

So, they literally try to energize the system?

Yes. They would try to energize the system.

Before you put yourself in harm's way.

Yes.

Yeah. And they can do all of that from the control room?

Absolutely.

So what does the communication look like between you when you're on the floor, with the team who has got something locked out? And you've got people in the control room here. How do you talk with one another?

Well we would use the radios, of course and we'd immediately call the operator and say, "We're ready now. Is there a start?" And he would communicate back to them, "It's a go."

It's a go? Okay. Okay. And so in a facility like this, are you doing that kind of thing like almost every day?

Every day.

Every day? Every day you're doing this? And so you can't miss a beat, right?

Right.

So, the relationship you have with the people in this control room and the work that you do is pretty vital I'm guessing.

Yes. You do become a team, and you understand that we need each other.

Yeah. 'Cause your life is on the line.

Absolutely.

When you're gonna go in and do something.

Absolutely.

Right. Right, makes sense. Makes sense. And so, what does it look like when you re-energize something? So you get that valve replaced, then how do you bring things back up to speed? And what's the relationship like in this room?

Yeah. So the person, you would obviously the valve has been replaced. And I would re-energize the pneumatics or whatever the process, and I'll call back to the control room to say, "We're ready." The people involved with the process would already know. I would communicate to them that we're ready to go, and then give a call to the control room.

And your locks are off at this point?

Locks are off and everybody's safe in a safe place, and we can have a start.

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative). And then they fire up the system?

Fire up the system.

And you test?

And we're gonna monitor it.

Yeah. Yeah, wonderful. Thank you so much. This is so important and so interesting, how in such an industrial setting all of this digital world comes into play in keeping you safe and sending you home the same way you came every day. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Thank you.

Remember to include power sources that may be controlled digitally when you're writing your step-by-step lockout/tagout procedures. I hope you gained a safety skill today. If you know someone who needs this, go ahead and pass it on. Safety is everyone's business.