The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") and OSHA state plan equivalents have long focused enforcement activity on industrial worksite and industrial machine safety.  Practically, because the agencies require employers to report amputations, a large percentage of OSHA inspections concern employer reports of finger amputations and fingertip amputations on industrial equipment.  These OSHA inspections focus on two standards: machine guarding (29 C.F.R 1910.212) and the Control of Hazardous Energy Standard, Lockout/Tagout ("LOTO") (29 C.F.R 1910.147). 

Given advances in machine guarding, these inspections increasingly examine accidents where employees bypassed machine guards (light curtains, photo eyes) or failed to follow energy control procedures when they performed service or maintenance.   OSHA may issue citations relating to the accident, as well as programmatic failures relating to employers' LOTO programs.

Employers must minimize the probability of accidents or OSHA inspections.  Accordingly, for employers in General Industry, it is critical to have a Lockout/Tagout Program that meets the requirements of the OSHA standard.  Many employers find this standard intimidating and difficult to interpret, which can lead to costly errors that may be identified during an OSHA inspection.

Most employers are aware that they must have a written lockout/tagout program, machine-specific lockout procedures, and employees trained in their roles within the program.  Commonly overlooked is OSHA's requirement to perform a periodic inspection as specified in 1910.147(c)(6)(i): The employer shall conduct a periodic inspection of the energy control procedure at least annually to ensure the procedure and the requirements of this standard is being followed.

The requirement to inspect at least annually is how most employers inadvertently violate this standard.  OSHA's expectation is that the periodic inspection is conducted within 12 months of the date of the last inspection.

Certification must be provided in writing to demonstrate the inspection has been completed.  The criteria that OSHA expects is detailed in 1910.147(c)(6)(ii): The employer shall certify that the periodic inspections have been performed. The certification shall identify the machine or equipment on which the energy control procedure was being utilized, the date of the inspection, the employee(s) included in the inspection, and the person performing the inspection (an authorized employee other than the one(s) who typically work on the machine/equipment).

It is best to develop a certification form that addresses each of these elements and identifies any deviations from the established procedure by the authorized persons (e.g. locking out in a sequence other than what is indicated), or inadequacies in the procedure (e.g. a procedure revision is necessary as not all energy sources were identified).  These forms must be kept on file as OSHA compliance officers will request them if an inspection is opened.

There strategies to help make performing periodic inspections more manageable.  Equipment that is the same/similar with similar energy sources may be grouped in the written machine specific lockout procedures.  Assessments of the authorized personnel on specific equipment may be performed as a group, and the inspections spread out over the course of the year as opposed to doing all at the same time.  

Maintenance personnel are expected to have enhanced knowledge of machinery and machine systems.  It often is impractical to perform a periodic inspection of maintenance personnel on each asset within a facility.  To facilitate periodic inspections for maintenance, it is recommended to perform group assessments on various assets in the facility, provided each group is inspected on a different set of machines.  Prior to conducting maintenance on a piece of equipment after the periodic inspection has been performed, maintenance personnel who were not included in the inspection must have the opportunity to review the inspection results from that piece of equipment.    

Minor Servicing

Minor Servicing is another area that tends to trip up even the most diligent employer.  There is a Minor Servicing exception which removes certain tasks from LOTO requirements if they are routine, repetitive, and integral to production, and the employers are provided equally effective alternative means of protection.  Employers should evaluate tasks that may qualify for the Minor Servicing Exception during production-related tasks.  These are tasks that take place during normal production operations and are routine, repetitive, and integral to the use of equipment for production, provided that the work is performed using alternative measures which provide equally effective protection.

It is important to understand OSHA's definition of servicing and maintenance as stated in the standard.  Servicing and/or maintenance is defined as Workplace activities such as constructing, installing, setting up, adjusting, inspecting, modifying, and maintaining and/or servicing machines or equipment. These activities include lubrication, cleaning or unjamming of machines or equipment and making adjustments or tool changes, where the employee may be exposed to the  unexpected energization or startup of the equipment or release of hazardous energy.  This covers more activities than most employers expect, particularly with regard to set up, which OSHA views as preparing a machine to perform its intended function.

Many employers, unaware of the above definition, permit set up, cleaning, and other activities to occur with the equipment powered as opposed to isolated.  If identified during an OSHA inspection, this can lead to citations.  In general, a minor servicing task is of short duration (roughly two minutes or less), occurring while the machine is performing its normal production function, and a guarding device (or comparable method) provides effective protection. 

To determine qualifying tasks, review work areas for all the tasks that the employee performs.  Operators should participate in the evaluation as they know the machine best, and that knowledge is critical for the accuracy of the assessment.  They should document findings and keep them on file.  A compliance officer may not necessarily be familiar with the industry, and it is up to the employer to prove that the task is consistent with the requirements of the exception.  These are the criteria to use.

1. The task occurs during production while the machine is performing its intended function. Qualifying minor servicing tasks do not occur during set up/changeover/die change. Set up is not utilization of the equipment per the lockout directive used by OSHA to enforce the standard.  For the employer's purposes, intended function means stock is entering the machine and product is coming out.

2. The task is routine, occurring as a regular feature of the production process. The task is repetitive, meaning the employee will perform the task multiple times per shift, and the task is integral (essential) to the production process.

For example, a CNC operator who might generate chips that can build up.  Every so many parts, the operator will address the chips with a tool, compressed air, or coolant flush to remove them from the work area.  Cleaning these chips will occur for the entire shift, therefore meeting the criteria for an in-production task that is routine, repetitive, and integral to the production process.

3. The final component is the requirement to have effective alternative protection (machine guarding) in place that the operator may rely on while performing these tasks. Typically, this guarding method consists of devices such as interlocks, light curtains, area scanners, etc. When a machine door or sensing field is accessed, the machine should not be able to start until the door is closed or sensing field is reset.  It is important to note that devices can fail, and the operator may not be aware of it unless the system is both redundant and monitored.  Testing interlocks or other devices should be performed at the manufacturer-specified intervals.  Review the device literature for testing guidance.  In the chip-cleaning example from earlier, the employee would be permitted to perform this task if his/her machine was equipped with an interlock that was functioning appropriately. 

Document the assessment and how it was determined the task qualifies.  During an OSHA inspection if the compliance officer believes that the assessment is in error, he/she will document a list of specific inadequacies associated with one or more elements of the exception.  It is the burden of the employer to demonstrate that the task qualifies as he/she is benefitting by using the exception.  This assessment can be used as a valuable training tool for new hires, and employees who have changed job positions.

Testing, Positioning, and Troubleshooting

Last, employers must consider activities that require equipment to be energized for testing, positioning, or troubleshooting.  OSHA permits these activities as specified under 1910.147(f)(1) only for the limited time necessary to test or troubleshoot the equipment.  If the employee cannot be located at a safe distance for troubleshooting, effective alternative protection via guarding or other procedures must be developed.  Employees are permitted to observe but not access a hazard area during troubleshooting until the machine has been locked out. Depending upon the activities that take place within the workplace, the employer may be able to standardize protective methods and standard operating procedures during troubleshooting.

When troubleshooting tasks are taking place on electrical equipment or circuits that are or may be energized, the employer must implement specific safety-related work practices consistent with the nature and extent of the electrical hazard.  While this topic is discussed in 1910.333, lockout/tagout makes an appearance here and is referenced in 1910.333(b)(2).  OSHA's expectation is that only qualified persons (trained in NFPA 70E) may work on energized electrical equipment, and those individuals must be familiar with precautionary techniques, personal protective equipment, insulating and shielding materials, and insulated tools. As noted above with regard to testing, positioning, and troubleshooting it is expected that once the issue is identified that the circuits will be appropriately locked out.

OSHA issues numerous citations relating to the LOTO standard.  Under OSHA's revised penalty, an Other-than-Serious or Serious citation can be cited at up to $14,502 per violation, while a Repeat or Willful can be cited at up to $145,027. To prevent workplace accidents, injuries, and associated legal liabilities, employers should work closely with qualified outside counsel and safety professionals to ensure that their workplaces are compliant.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.