Improperly controlled hazardous energy can seriously injure or kill workers. To minimize the risk, effective practices and procedures, as laid out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, must be implemented.
According to the OSHA, almost 10 percent of severe accidents in the workplace in a large number of industries are caused by failure to prevent the release of hazardous energy.
Understanding Hazardous Energy
Equipment and machines store various types of energy, including hydraulic, electrical, chemical, mechanical, and thermal. The unexpected release of this energy while workers are operating machines and equipment or conducting maintenance can cause severe injury. It can also lead to death.
Some of the injuries that can occur include electrocution, burns, cutting, crushing, lacerating, amputation, fractures, and more.
For example, an employee is servicing an aerial lift and doesn’t block the boom while working beneath it. The boom drops and crushes the worker to death. In such an event, a workers compensation attorney will investigate if the company has an effective hazardous energy program in place, if they provided the necessary training to the employee, and if they are in full compliance with all OSHA regulations.
How to Control Hazardous Energy
Controlling hazardous energy means preventing its release from the source into the equipment or machine. This requires identifying the sources, isolating the equipment from the energy source, dissipating any energy that can’t be isolated, and locking out or tagging out the energy isolating devices in use.
Identify the Source
When servicing or subjecting a machine to maintenance, the type of energy that powers the equipment must be determined. It may be one form of energy, or it could be more than one. For example, servicing an excavator exposes a worker to multiple types of hazardous energy, including electrical, hydraulic, and mechanical.
Isolate the Energy Source
The employee must isolate the energy source from the equipment and make sure energy cannot flow to it. This is known as de-energizing. This could mean disconnecting motors, isolating circuits, blocking the flow of fluid for hydraulic systems, and securing parts that could move due to gravity.
Dissipate Potential Energy
After de-energizing the equipment, the employee must make sure that any stored energy has been released. Water, chemical, air, and steam systems, for example, store energy. If there is a potential for the level of energy to reach hazardous levels again, the worker must isolate these energy storage systems from the machine.
Locking or Tagging Out Energy-Isolating Devices
An energy-isolating device is designed to stop energy traveling from the source to the machine. For example, an electrical circuit breaker, a disconnect switch, and a line valve are energy isolating devices.
However, such a device is only useful when someone can’t accidentally restart the system. Locking out refers to a process whereby the device is secured in a neutral, off, or closed position. The device is locked, usually with a key or a combination, so the worker can safely perform maintenance and no one else can accidentally restart the equipment.
Tagging out refers to placing a warning on the energy-isolating device, indicating that the device should not be touched. In theory, tagging out should be as effective as locking out, but since there is no physical barrier present, it’s more difficult to prove how efficient this system is. At the very least, the tag must be secured properly to the energy-isolating device.
If it’s possible to lock out the energy isolating device, then the employee must always do so. Tagging out should only become an option if locking out is not possible for some reason. If the device is tagged out, then it should be done in such a way that it is as effective as locking out the unit.
Creating an Effective Program to Control Hazardous Energy
The first step is to determine what the hazards are. This information can then be used to develop effective procedures for operation, servicing, installation, maintenance, operation and more.
Next, machine processes must be analyzed, including programming, operation, set-up, changeovers, starts and stops, and more.
Once the information has been collected, the level of risk for workers must be assessed. At this point, the organization needs to look at what hazards are present and what the risks to employees are. Essentially, scenarios need to be created detailing all the possible situations in which an employee could be harmed.
Next, job controls must be developed and implemented to minimize risks to employee safety. The final stage is to train employees so they understand the program and are aware of their role and responsibilities.
An effective hazardous energy control program is vital to the safety of employees and creates a work environment where everyone is safety-conscious. This benefits everyone in the organization.