By Julia Waterer, Contributor, Craig Kelman & Associates
“What keeps you up at night?”
Jerry Traer asked this question to a group of Ontario corrugating experts in a risk assessment workshop, and improper tagout and lockout of machinery was at the very top of the list.
Traer, a Training/Program Specialist at Workplace Safety North (WSN), facilitated a workshop that included workers and management representatives, and the group all agreed that the most likely cause of injury facing cardboard corrugating sector was the inadequate shutdown and lockout of the machinery.
The core principle of an effective lockout procedure is de-energization of machinery. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, “de-energization is a process that is used to disconnect and isolate a system from a source of energy to prevent the release of that energy.” This release of energy is the main source of concern expressed by workers in the corrugating sector; the sudden, unstoppable, or unexpected force contained within machinery, able to seriously injure or kill a human. Lockouts and tagouts prevent accidental start-up of machinery, as well as the release of stored energy that exists due to regular operation. Without proper and clearly understood lockouts, these accidents can result in lacerations, crushing or amputation injuries, electrocution and death.
With input from workers, supervisors, and employers in the industry, WSN has isolated 10 root causes of deficient lockout/tagout procedures in Ontario pulp and paper mills.
Lack of worker training and experience: Identified as the number one cause of deficiency in correct lockout procedures, it is lack of direct teaching on this issue that creates the largest hazard. Instruction on the necessity of lockout and tagout procedures is paramount in the training of new employees, to prevent not only hefty OSHA fines, but also potential bodily harm or death to anyone on the worksite. Emphasis must be not only on the financial penalties resulting from fines, but also on the safety of every single person on the site, new, or experienced. WSN teaches the Internal Responsibility System (IRS), wherein everyone shares the responsibility for safety on the worksite; each individual is responsible for the collective safety. The IRS is a fundamental part of education on workplace safety, and while experience cannot be taught, it is the responsibility of those with experience to promote and encourage safety procedures in all fellow workers regardless.
Improper lockout/lack of identification of equipment: Regardless of intention, a proper lockout and tagout cannot be performed without correct equipment and labelling. Lockout procedures are useless, and can add hazards if used on the wrong equipment or if the tagout materials themselves are old, broken, or inaccurately labelled. Tagout materials should be standardized in an easily recognizable system, updated regularly, and designated specifically for each and every piece of equipment.
Lack of written procedure: A lack of cohesive and company-wide official lockout/tagout procedure, or one that is outdated or not referred to regularly, can attribute to a culture of negligence on site, as well as result in avoidable injuries. Written procedures must be maintained, updated and reviewed at least once a year as well as in the event of any changes or incidents. The written procedure must be site-specific, not one-size-fits-all, and should outline the responsibilities and roles in a lockout. Written procedure protects everyone, in terms of both liability and physical safety.
Inaccurate lockout sheets outlining roles and responsibilities: All sheets outlining the lockout procedures must be job-specific, making it absolutely clear who is responsible for what roles. Validation of the lockout must be given by a qualified individual, and all temporary changes to procedure should be approved by two qualified individuals.
Inconsistent lockout and taking shortcuts: A culture of inconsistency in enforcement, and the desire to save time by circumventing safety, is one of the most likely ways someone could get hurt on the job. Reinforcement that safety comes before production must be a top-down communication, and supervisors must repeatedly and clearly prioritize safety of their workers. Every member of the department should be oriented on lockout procedures for all equipment, on the dangers of shortcuts, and on how safety is a priority, not speed. When it comes to safety, consistency of enforcement at all levels is key.
Fatigue: Be it due to working multiple jobs, too high of a workload, long hours, or lack of staff, fatigue can easily result in hazards for not only one worker, but the entire crew on site. It is management and supervisors’ jobs to understand the dangers of fatigue in the workforce, and to hire enough workers to effectively and safely run the machinery. Scheduling so that lockouts are minimized on overtime shifts decreases the risk of errors. Workers should take regular breaks to allow themselves to regroup, and they should be able to know what fatigue looks and feels like. The key factor to combat fatigue is a fair workload and knowing one’s limits before they reach them.
Mental health: A corporation-wide substance use policy, as well as training for supervisors to be able to recognize and address substance use at work, are an imperative part of specifically addressing safety. Understanding at all corporate levels that stress, anxiety and fatigue can result in injury or death just as much as substance abuse at work is similarly vital, and supervisors must be able to fairly and reliably identify and handle any mental health issues. Supervisors must be able to communicate effectively and coherently, with awareness of how their comportment can affect outcomes and safety of their team. All workers should be aware of which tasks have higher risks involved.
Vulnerable workers: Young workers newly integrating into the workforce and new Canadians adjusting to our work culture are often the most vulnerable to injury at work, due to their lack of familiarity with the procedures of a lockout, or even with the purpose of lockouts in general. Accommodations must be made for understanding work culture differences, as well as tolerance training for all workers. Mentoring young and new workers creates a system of trust and open communication, facilitating an easier and safer transition into the workforce. Engagement sessions where workers can have open discussions also creates an environment more hospitable for new workers to feel involved in the IRS. A uniformed, vulnerable worker can be a risk to anyone on the job site, not just themselves.
History of no lockouts: Poor safety culture is not only dangerous, but also costly and can drag down productivity. Too often, the drive to “get it done, do it quickly, don’t waste time” becomes a priority over safety. The belief that it “won’t happen to me” is also too common. A lax safety culture in a workplace can lull workers into a false sense of security; a shortcut that worked 50 times before can be fatal on the 51st identical instance.
Interlocks: Often responsible for lockout failures, interlocking safety systems, which interfere with another lockout, can result in disaster through no operator error or negligence. Interlocking systems must be designed and reviewed by qualified engineers, and all workers in the sector must be familiar with how the interlocks perform and their differences in tasks.
Information sourced from www.workplacesafetynorth.ca and www.ccohs.ca.