It was a typical October morning at the Bumblebee Tuna plant in Santa Fe Springs, California. Just before 5 a.m., maintenance employee Jose Melena was instructed to repair a chain inside one of the 54 inch by 36 foot tuna ovens. Not long after he was inside and the repair was underway, a second employee began loading the oven with 12,000 pounds of tuna. Assuming Melena was in the restroom at the time, the employee switched on the oven and the tuna began to cook.
A supervisor soon noticed Melena was missing, setting off a search throughout the facility and the parking lot, where Melena’s car was found, untouched. After searching for an hour and a half, the boiler operator suggested checking the last oven that had been loaded, which had reached 270 degrees. Employees waited an additional half an hour to let the oven cool down before they could open it. Sadly, Melena was indeed found inside near the exit, having suffered a terrible fate.
Employees across America service machines every day, which can be dangerous if the correct procedures are not followed, as was the case with the Bumblebee Tuna tragedy. Many serious injuries, even fatalities, have occurred when workers thought a machine they were servicing or its power source was turned off. Machines can unexpectedly start up because of stored energy that was not properly released or by another employee who didn’t realize it wasn’t safe to turn on. These types of incidents can be avoided by lockout-tagout (LOTO), which disables the equipment and prevents the release of hazardous energy while service and maintenance is performed.
Compliance with lockout-tagout procedures prevents 50,000 injuries and 120 fatalities every year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Here are three critical points every company needs to remember about LOTO to keep employees safe.
Employers are Responsible for Protecting Employees with LOTO Procedures
All employees have the right to a safe workplace. It’s up to the employer to follow the OSHA requirements when they have employees servicing or maintaining equipment and machines. OSHA requires that all employers develop and enforce an energy control program, and ensure that all current and new equipment is capable of being locked out. If there are machines or equipment that cannot be locked out, it is the employer’s responsibility to develop and enforce a tagout program.
Employers should inspect their equipment and their energy control procedures at least once a year to verify that all procedures are up-to-date and their equipment is working correctly.
Employees are Responsible for Knowing and Following LOTO Procedures
Safety training that includes LOTO procedures should be included in new employee training and ongoing training for all employees to keep procedures fresh in their minds. All employees working with equipment and machinery should know and understand the procedures and be expected to follow hazardous energy protocol to avoid serious danger to themselves or others.
Lockout-tagout training should include an overview of the employer’s energy control program, the aspects of the energy control program as they relate to different employee duties and the OSHA requirements for LOTO. Employees should understand that they are subject to fines, losing their job and even criminal charges for failing to comply with these standards.
OSHA is Responsible for Enforcing LOTO Procedures
OSHA was established in part to ensure employees are guaranteed a safe working environment. OSHA provides education and training to employers and employees, and will step in to handle safety issues as they occur. Both employers and employees have the responsibility to report serious LOTO situations. OSHA investigates these incidents to the fullest extent to make certain the incident is not repeated.
OSHA also can perform an on-site inspection if a complaint is filed to determine any health and safety hazards in the workplace. OSHA will need as much information as possible, including:
- The type of equipment and its condition
- The type of training employees have received on its use
- How often and for how long employees work with the equipment
- The types of hazards present in the workplace
- What is being done to safeguard against any hazards
Managing hazardous energy with LOTO procedures is a vital part of workplace safety. Keeping track of all the moving parts can be challenging, especially at a large company, so it’s a good idea to automate these processes as much as possible. To assist with your company’s lockout-tagout procedures, BasicSafe offers Lockout-Tagout program software that allows your company to upload your procedures or build new ones and share them with your employees so they are accessible when they are needed most. Check out our software and contact us for more information.