The importance of lockout/tagouts in maintenance

January 30, 2023

| 3 min read

The importance of lockout/tagouts in maintenance

In 2011, two maintenance technicians in Arizona had just finished up repair work inside an 8-ft diameter pipeline. The pipe carried hot oil from a pumping station to a secondary processing station a mile away. Before the repair, they had properly locked out the pipeline valves and pumping stations. After completing the repair, the techs cleared the area and brought the valves and pumps back online from a remote control room.

Unknown to the techs, two supervisors had decided to inspect the work without following proper procedure. They did not do their own lockout of the valves and did not alert the control room. The valves were released while the supervisors were still in the pipe, leading to a deadly accident.

Failure to comply with the proper lockout/tagout procedure had cost them their lives.

Compliance with the lockout/tagout standard prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries each year.¹

What is lockout/tagout (LOTO)?

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “Lockout/Tagout refers to specific practices and procedures to safeguard employees from the unexpected energization or startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous energy during service or maintenance activities.”²

Simply put, LOTO is the method of cutting energy sources to machinery so that it’s safe to do work on that equipment.

An official lockout/tagout program has four key elements to it:

  1. Energy control procedures: Including standards, methods, and documentation
  2. Employee training: To make sure all employees are up to date anytime there is turnover or new machinery
  3. Tags and lockout devices: To identify the worker(s) and physically prevent the activation of a machine
  4. Inspection: To periodically reevaluate the LOTO program and ensure the methods and employee training are up to date

How to get employees to follow lockout/tagout procedures

The structure of your maintenance procedures and the design of your facility have the biggest impact on whether employees lockout/tagout every single time it’s required.

One method to increase compliance is to include the LOTO procedure in relevant work orders. This puts LOTO front and center in your maintenance workflow. If you use a CMMS, this process can be expedited by creating a LOTO task list and attaching it to each relevant work order.


Of course, including the LOTO procedure in your work orders is an administrative control. It’s a helpful tip, but only if it’s followed. To minimize the risk of human error, move up the hierarchy of controls by incorporating engineering controls into your facility.

Hierarchy of controls: from most effective to least effective. Elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, PPE

For example, you can put interlocks on cabinet doors so electrical panels cannot be accessed without de-energization. This eliminates the possibility of shortcuts and increases the likelihood that all procedures, including LOTO, are followed.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, build a culture of safe work. This starts from the top down, when management shows they are serious about implementing and enforcing LOTO procedures. It may not be pleasant, but there should be consequences to not following the procedures. When there are lives on the line, compliance is not optional.

LOTO training

Awareness is an integral part of LOTO. That means keeping employees trained and up to date on your processes and procedures. One industry best practice is to ensure lockout/tagout training is a part of the onboarding process for all new employees. This includes a classroom session explaining the principles of LOTO followed by a hands-on session. The hands-on session should be led by an experienced trainer and include an overview of your facility’s specific hazards and equipment.

For example, in facilities with electrical hazards, the classroom session covers topics such as arc flash boundaries and meter ratings. The hands-on portion may include training in basic safety procedures such as “hot-sticking” and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

After that, you’ll want to require an annual LOTO training refresher for each employee. Proper documentation and training records are important. In the event of an accident, you may be required to provide employee training records as part of the investigation process.

Not sure where to start? OSHA offers free online training opportunities for LOTO, and sample LOTO programs are available to help you craft your team’s policy.

Workers injured on the job from exposure to hazardous energy lose an average of 24 workdays for recuperation.¹

By following the above tips, you can help ensure that the LOTO process isn’t missed and that it’s simpler and easier to follow. That’s critically important, as 80% of the injured workers surveyed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics failed to turn off the equipment before performing the service work.³ Conclusion: Anything we can do to drive LOTO compliance means a safer workplace for everyone.

Stay safe out there.


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