Although there are many components to LOTO, there are many more interpretations of the rule. When you get down to it, the rules are simpler than many people may believe. However, it’s when we interpret the rules that we sometimes lose sight of the purpose.
Overall, the goal is to create a safe working environment for our employees who service and repair our process and support equipment throughout the operation. More pointedly, keeping your fingers attached to your hands is one of the program’s more specific purposes. Having healthy maintenance technicians who have all of their digits still connected makes them a valuable asset to our team. As a result, keeping our team safe must be a priority.
Many maintenance managers have come up through the ranks, and if you think back 25 years or so, there were a lot of risks taken on a daily basis. We can sit around and talk about all the heroic things back then like jumping the belt back on to a running pulley or reaching into a hot oven to clear lid jam to save that ever important load of bread. It was sort of a rite of passage to be able to tell the next shift how you saved the day. This kind of mentality was somewhat expected.
Years ago, our boss led by example, and we followed. Even after the Occupational Health & Safety Administration came to be in the 70s, we still had the attitude in place that craved heroism for many years to come.
Today, we have a different mentality when it comes to what we can do and what we shouldn’t do when it comes to taking chances in the workplace. LOTO brings with it a set of rules that are supposed to make us think through a situation before we jump in. Most of the time we consider the consequences, but there is that rare instance when people find themselves “in the moment” and they don’t follow procedures.
Basically, the rules for LOTO state you must lock out all stored energy if you have to adjust or make repairs to a piece of equipment, especially one that requires the removal of a safety guard or other protection device.
Ah, “stored energy,” what the heck is that you say? We always think about electricity first, but we sometimes forget about gases under pressure, compressed air, spring loads and even water pressure. Another one that is easy to forget is suspended weights. All of these types of stored energy can injure you if you don’t take precaution, and this is where an honest-to-goodness Lock Out/Tag Out program pays off.
When we don’t protect ourselves with LOTO, someone always ends up suffering an injury that didn’t need to incur. Through my career, I have seen my share of workplace injuries whether they were unintentional accidents or whether they occurred because of some act of risk taking. Thinking back, though, only a few incidents were not preventable.
The foundation of a LOTO program consists of a combination of philosophy, training, equipment and practice. Training, equipment and practices are easily learned. However, the philosophy behind LOTO involves attitude, which is often difficult to change.
Fortunately, today’s workforce is more interested in staying healthy and keeping all of their fingers attached than acting as the hero of the day. That said, we run into occasions where a “save the buns” environment exists simply because there are enough old-timers around who remain cemented in the mindset of the past.
When this attitude exists, getting the bread to the dock becomes their top priority, and everything else comes second. Often they put themselves in harm’s way and many times suffer some level of injury, everything from a slight nick to a nasty broken bone to an unimaginable severed limb.
In the end, it is the failure to change attitudes and to follow the philosophy behind LOTO that causes us the most heartache.
So how do we shift the mentality from risk taking to working safely at all costs? Top management needs to mandate a change in the workplace mindset and be willing to mete out the necessary consequences those employees who ignore common sense work practices.