SAFETY SOLUTIONS: Lockout-Tagout from a Manager’s Perspective
”Why do you think lockout-tagout accidents
continue to occur in the workplace?”
According to OSHA lockout-tagout
(LOTO) is the number 1 most cited regulation in the manufacturing
industry and the number 5 most cited regulation
for all industries. The intent of Regulation 1910.147
Lockout-Tagout is to protect employees and property from
damage due to unexpected activation and re-energization
of machines when equipment is being repaired, modified,
installed, cleaned or inspected. The procedure involves
the locking and tagging of equipment in order to prevent
accidental or unintentional use. And the potential consequences
for failure to follow LOTO can be wicked: crushing
injuries, amputations, burns, even death.
So why wouldn't employees want to utilize this program
every time they service a machine? When asked I've
heard, “It takes too much time!” “In the real world we're
pushed for production numbers and in order to meet the
delivery deadlines sometimes I have to do unsafe tasks to
please management.” “OSHA just doesn't get that our
process can't be shut down each time we need to work on
a machine.” “It would cost too much!” “There's a lot of
pressure to keep the line running.” “Nothing is going to
In my current role as a safety professional I'm privileged
to enter different work sites. My neck bristles every time I
hear managers and supervisors echoing the same frustrations,
“We're so short staffed! I can't be everywhere!” “I
don't have the resources to do things right!” “We are in a
constant state of reaction and putting out fires!”
“Everybody has an agenda and thinks their need is the priority!”
I know their pain. I too was a manager. My story however
includes walking away from a great position at an
aerospace plant over an expectation to compromise the
safety of our workers. I wasn't willing to do it. Yes, I had a
family and payment obligations, but couldn't justify violating
my own core value summarized on a card I still carry,
“Asking me to overlook a simple safety violation would be
asking me to compromise my entire attitude toward the
value of your life.”
When workers are choosing to bypass lockout-tagout
procedures, it's a symptom of a larger problem, workplace
culture. If the culture in a workplace supports disregarding
OSHA regulations and gives safety only lip service, it's
only a matter of time before there is a major accident.
It is possible to turn a culture around. Providing work
sites where workers believe their personal safety is a priority,
and where they can testify that the company really
cares about their safety and health. It starts with the management
team thinking of safety as a human right rather
than a program and demonstrating through their decisions,
allocation of resources and behavior that safety is
an essential part of business.
Chuck, a high-level manager at a fortune 100 company
took over an organization which prided itself in its maverick
attitude and high level of risk tolerance. He turned it
around by engaging the workers in the improvement
process and showing he cared about them as people.
One of his first actions was to conspicuously post
throughout the organization a safety policy statement he
expected followed. It read, “I expect you to perform your
job in a safe manner. I expect my management team to
support your ability to do your job – without compromising
your safety or jeopardizing your health.
If at anytime you are asked to perform an operation you
do not feel is safe, I expect you to immediately bring it to
the attention of your manager or myself. I do not expect
you to perform a job that you feel is unsafe or the proper
safety measures are not in place. I value you as a person,
and I honor the integrity of this company.” He signed it
and included both his cell and home phone number.
That short statement empowered both workers and
managers to elevate safety and quit doing unsafe practices
just to get the job done.
To do their job well management personnel also needed
some basic foundational structure and support.
1. Clear, consistent and well communicated policies
A strong corporate policy, which covers the basic structure
of the 1910.147 regulation and defines how to handle
“gray areas” that aren't spelled out in the OSHA regulation.
Many times supervisors, who are the eyes and front line
of an organization receive very little training when promoted
from the work force in either safety or in supervision
skills. As they rotate through the organization there
is need for additional training on new or unfamiliar equipment
to support their responsibilities.
- Have they been trained in OSHA requirements?
- Are they aware of the hazards present on the work site
and how to mitigate those hazards?
- Are they knowledgeable of the equipment being used
and hazards/warnings listed in the operators manual?
3. Engagement & Frequent Communications
It takes more than having a LOTO program in place that
is compliant with OSHA's regulations to avoid accidents.
Employee acceptance and engagement for change must
be present. All stakeholders, including the operators,
maintenance personnel, management, purchasing,
finance, safety, engineering, union members, and others
entering the area need to be familiar with hazards and
their role stay safe.
Without any accountability, the best lockout-tagout program
in the world will fail.
- Do managers have the skills and training required to
coach others in safe behaviors?
- How do we know that the process is being followed
100% of the time?
- Who will be responsible and what authority do they
- What checks are in place as new people or equipment
is introduced into the area?
- What are the consequences if the LOTO procedures are
Jose, a factory manager just days ago fired four employees
for disregarding lockout-tagout procedures. One of
those employees was a supervisor. “It was hard!” he
shared. Jose views his people as family and knows they
depended on their jobs as their only source of income. In
the long run he may have saved their lives; lockout-tagout
is that serious.
In each case Chuck's, Jose's and my personal integrity,
honor and core values had been tested. As a manager the
mutual respect and trust developed over years working
with some truly amazing people wasn't worth compromising.
Just like the song written by Aaron Tippin, “You've
Got to Stand for Something!”
How do you know if your culture needs adjusting? You
don't like the current results!
For more information, click on the author biography at the top of the page.