9 Steps For A Fail-Safe Lockout/Tagout – LOTO Safety

It is a fact of life that when you work with machinery, you will have to conduct repairs and maintenance on a regular basis. This can prove to be dangerous, even if you ensure that you switch the appliance off before you begin. There is a risk that someone could unknowingly power it up again, causing injury to you. Also, the machinery may contain stored energy, whether electrical, hydraulic, or mechanical, that could launch it into operation and trap you. This is why you need a setlist of lockout/tagout steps to release that stored energy and label the equipment adequately so no one uses it while you are at work.

The numbers back this common-sense argument. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that, by adhering to proper lockout/tagout standards, companies prevent 120 fatalities and as many as 50,000 injuries per year. With workers exposed to hazardous energy needing an average of 24 days away from work for recuperation, it is easy to see why this is so important.With 3 million workers across the U.S charged with regularly servicing mechanical equipment and an estimated 10% of all industry safety incidents occurring as a result of a failure to properly lock down machinery, lockout/tagout is a key best practice that protects the workforce in this country.

The Purpose of Lockout/Tagout (LOTO Safety)

The purpose of a lockout/tagout program is to help control hazardous energy and prevent workplace incidents. Based on OSHA’s Control of Hazardous Energy Regulation, LOTO programs vary between industries and companies. The regulation only lays down rules for shutting down machinery, de-energizing the equipment, and labeling it appropriately. 

A Lockout/Tagout procedure helps prevent injuries such as:

  • Electrocution
  • Crushing
  • Cutting
  • Burns
  • Laceration
  • Fractured body parts

In the words of OSHA, a LOTO program prevents “unexpected energization or startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities.” 

Understanding OSHA’s Control of Hazardous Energy Regulation

What are OSHA’s requirements?

OSHA requires that employers develop and implement an energy control program that is relevant to their needs. This is based on the industry in which they work and the types of machinery they use. The LOTO plan protects employees against hazardous energy sources while performing maintenance or servicing. This, by the way, makes it a great safety meeting topic for manufacturing

As part of the plan, the following should happen:

●       Use an energy-isolating device like a manual circuit breaker, safety block, line valve, or disconnect switch to prevent the machinery from working. A lock or lockout device should hold this in a safe position while work continues. Only the same employee who activated the lock can deactivate it.

●       If you cannot lock out the energy-isolating device, you can use a tagout device. Pair that with one other safety measure to prevent the equipment from turning on, such as blocking a control switch or removing a valve handle.

●       Ensure you can lock out all new equipment and add the facility in old or refurbished machinery.

●       Instigate a tagout system that provides equivalent safety to the worker for times when a lockout is not possible. This involves placing a prominent warning on the equipment in question. It should state that the machinery is not to be operated until the worker removes the tag.

●       Ensure that the company only uses lockout/tagout devices that are authorized for the specific equipment and industry.

●       Make certain that all lockout/tagout devices identify the worker who installed them.

●       The company should review its procedures for energy control at least once a year.

●       They should provide training for all relevant employees. 

Who needs to comply with LOTO OSHA standards?

The LOTO OSHA standards apply to most companies where employees service or maintain machines that could cause them injury if they were to start-up or energize unexpectedly, or release their stored energy. This can be any source of energy, including electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, thermal, and more.

Exceptions include the agricultural, maritime, construction, and oil and gas drilling industries. In addition, it does not cover “electrical hazards from work on, near, or with conductors or equipment in electric utilization (premise wiring) installations”, according to OSHA. However, all of these businesses have their own hazardous energy standards to which to adhere.

Steps of LOTO Safety & Lockout/Tagout Procedures

Here are the steps you should take for an effective lockout/tagout procedure.

1.    Preparation

Preparation is key when beginning the Lockout/Tagout procedures. The very first thing a business should do is create its hazardous energy policy. This involves highlighting which machinery requires which protocols and which job roles are responsible for proper lockout/tagout. Following that, you should document the location of the equipment, how to safely shut it down and start it up again, as well as noting anything else that will keep workers safe when maintaining it. See this sample LOTO policy to get a better idea.

As a minimum, OSHA expects you to provide employees with the following information:

●       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.

Another key factor in your preparation for your LOTO procedures is to train all authorized employees in the relevant procedures and in assessing hazards and avoiding them. 

2.    Pre-Lockout Inspection

When the authorized employee comes to service the equipment, they must be fully up to speed on the hazards in question, including the types of hazardous energy they will encounter. They should also know how to control that energy before they begin the process.

3.    Notify Affected Colleagues

When you take a piece of equipment out of operation, this affects your colleagues and how they work. You should inform them when the service or maintenance work will occur, how long it is expected to last, and workarounds they may need to use if it is unavailable for an extended period. 

4.    Shutdown

The authorized employee should take the necessary steps as outlined in the procedures to shut down the machine. This usually involved flicking the power switch, but the employee should check the exact detail for every piece of machinery. This process must be clear in your documentation.

5.    Isolate the Primary Energy Sources

This means that you should shut down the main source of hazardous energy that the machine uses. It could be electricity, gas, steam, or any other source. Once again, the instructions need to be detailed so that there is no chance of the worker getting confused by vague statements and forgetting an important step.

6.    Isolate the Stored Energy

The secondary sources are those that remain within the machine, even after shutdown and isolation. This could be fumes that can cause a hazard unless they are allowed to escape through ventilation. It might be tension in the spring assembly or even unsecured parts of machinery that swing or move and could strike the worker.

7.    Lockout/Tagout

Any piece of equipment that someone can use to re-energize the machine must have lockout or tagout devices attached. The authorized person should lock the energy-isolating device if possible. They should use a lock that is specific to them, and which bears their name and designates them as the person in charge of the operation. They are also the only person who can remove the locks.

 In the event that they cannot lockout, they should tagout instead. This involves person-specific tags informing all other employees not to operate the machinery until the authorized person removes it.

In the event that the work continues beyond the work shift, the locks and tags need switching to those bearing the name of the worker taking over the responsibility. Both the original worker and the new authorized person should be present to change the locks and tags.

8.    Verify the Isolation

The last step before performing the maintenance is to verify that the isolation and lockout have worked. First, the authorized person should check that the equipment is clear. Once it is ensured that no one will be hurt if the machinery re-energizes, try to turn it on. If it does not switch on, the procedures are successful. 

In this case, the authorized worker should then set the controls back into the off position to prevent them from starting unexpectedly after unlocking. Inspect to ensure all residual energy has gone and the repair, maintenance, or service can begin. 

9.    Re-Energize Machinery

Once the workers have completed the task at hand, the authorized person should inform all employees that they will soon switch the equipment on again. They must check that there are no more workers or tools in the equipment and follow the business’s documentation for the correct procedure to re-energize the machinery. The authorized worker should remove the locks and tags and restart the equipment.

Who is Responsible for the Lockout Program?

Everyone in the workplace bears some responsibility for the smooth running of the lockout program. 

LOTO Responsibilities
It is for management to develop the procedures for their workplace, with the relevant equipment, instructions, and authorized staff members identified. They should also implement training so that the relevant employees know how to perform the procedures safely.
Authorized Employee
An authorized employee is responsible for putting these energy-control procedures into action. They should know how to identify hazardous energy, which hazardous energy sources are present on-site, as well as how to isolate and control these sources.
Other Workers
Other workers should be aware of lockout/tagout and should listen to the information given by authorized persons when machinery will be out of service. They need to know the strict rules about lockout and tagout devices and why they should not remove them under any circumstances.


What does de-energization mean?

De-energization is the process of removing the energy from the machinery before you install the lockout. This could be through unplugging or using a disconnect switch, but it also includes securing any loose parts that could cause injury. 

What is a minimal lockout procedure?

Minimal lockout procedure establishes the minimum requirements to provide a safe environment for employees working on machinery that uses hazardous energy. If you only have a small number of simple machines, you may find that minimal lockout procedures work for you. However, with a lot of different machines and procedures, you need your own specific document to detail your procedures.

What details should the lockout procedures and work instructions contain?

You should detail the exact machine for which you need a procedure, how to shut it down, and how to isolate it. In addition, your LOTO document should state where to place lockout devices, how to attach them, how to control and de-energize stored energy, and how to know it has been properly isolated. 

What is positive isolation?

Positive isolation is the process of identifying all hazardous energy sources in a piece of equipment, isolating them at the source, and eliminating residual energy.

What should I do if I cannot lock out the equipment?

If you cannot lockout a piece of equipment, you should attach a tagout device as close as possible to the energy isolating device. This should be noticeable enough so that anyone attempting to turn on the equipment sees it and leaves it alone until the authorized person removes the tag.

When can tagout be used in place of a lockout?

When it is not possible to lock out the energy isolating device, you can do a tagout instead. This should provide workers with the same level of safety as a lockout; meaning it must be obvious to anyone in the area that they should not operate this equipment. All new machinery must contain the ability to lock out. You must also add the facility during the renovation or modification of existing machinery.

What are the limitations of tagout devices?

Tagout devices do not physically prevent anyone from switching on a piece of equipment. They only warn them not to and, as seen in many incident report examples, this may be insufficient. According to OSHA, using only a tagout device can lead to a false sense of security. The agency recommends adding another safety procedure to the process. This can include removing a valve handle, for example.


Lockout/tagout procedures are vital to safe operations. This is obvious from the statistics which show that employers prevent thousands of injuries and fatalities in the U.S. with the help of lockout/tagout procedures. So, it is no surprise that OSHA wants businesses to take this regulation seriously. Although each organization needs a custom LOTO plan, if you follow the lockout/tagout steps above, you will be able to work out the procedures that work best for you. You will also keep your workers safe during the high-risk tasks.

References and further reading

●   LOTO Training

●   LOTO Procedures

●   Lock-Out/Tag-Out Annual Inspection Form

●   Lock-Out/Tag-Out Procedure Compliance Checklist

●   LOTO Toolbox Talks