Protect Workers and Save Money with Lockout/Tagout 

Approximately 3,000 workers suffer lost-time injuries each year from being caught in dangerous parts of equipment or machinery during maintenance or cleaning 1. Others suffer from electrocution, burns, crushing, amputation and other serious injuries when servicing or maintaining machines without properly controlling the release of hazardous energy. 

In the U.S., approximately 3 million workers, including machine operators, laborers and electricians, face this dangerous workplace risk. 

The Dangers of Hazardous Energy 

Hazardous energy is electrical, mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic, chemical, thermal, gravitational or other sources of energy in equipment or machinery that have the potential to harm workers. When it’s not properly controlled, workers can be seriously injured or killed. 

For example:

  • Workers were burned when a steam valve was automatically turned on while they were repairing a downstream connection in the piping.
  • A worker was crushed when a jammed conveyor system suddenly released while they were trying to clear the jam.
  • A worker was shocked when internal wiring on a piece of factory equipment electrically shorted while they were repairing the equipment.

A lockout/tagout program can help keep workers safe during these types of routine service and maintenance activities. 

What is Lockout/Tagout?

Lockout/tagout (LOTO) programs are a simple and inexpensive way to protect at-risk workers from injury due to the unexpected release of hazardous energy. They detail specific tools and processes that ensure equipment remains powered down and poses no threat to workers. A LOTO program includes locking (with a physical lock) or tagging (with a physical tag) equipment and machines to prevent accidental start-up, either from human error or residual energy.

According to OSHA, lockout/tagout protocols are “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.”

The Costs of Failing to Lockout/Tagout

OSHA reports that following proper LOTO procedures prevents 50,000 injuries and 120 fatalities each year. The administration’s standard establishes minimum performance requirements for the control of hazardous energy that could cause injury to employees. However, despite federal and state regulations that detail protective measures to prevent accidental start-up of machines and equipment during servicing and maintenance, the control of hazardous energy remains in OSHA’s Top 10 list for the most-cited violations.

A failure to lockout/tagout can result in a range of direct and indirect consequences.

Direct injury and workers’ compensation costs can include medical expenses, legal services, property loss and indemnity payments.

  • The average cost per workers’ compensation claim involving an amputation runs $95,204, while a crushing accident is $57,519.2

Indirect injury and workers’ compensation costs could include increased workers’ comp premium rates, reduced productivity, damaged company reputation, lowered employee morale, replacement employee training, accident investigation, implementation of corrective measures and OSHA noncompliance fines.

  • LOTO citations from OSHA can range from $14,502 per violation up to $145,027.3

Guidelines to Control Hazardous Energy

Employers can create a safer work environment by creating procedures to turn off equipment, isolate power sources and control hazardous energy while service and maintenance activities are being performed.

The following are LOTO program and equipment guidelines from our partner, Nationwide’s risk management services:

Simple steps for an effective program

  1. Notify all affected employees that you have implemented a lockout/tagout program. Explain the purpose of the program and familiarize employees with the type(s) of energy that the machinery uses. Warn all affected employees about the potential hazards.
  2. Assign each authorized employee a standardized lock with a single key for locking out equipment. Maintain documentation on file that lists the specific lock assigned to each employee. Keep duplicate keys in a secured location, for emergency use only. 
  3. If the machine or equipment is operating prior to lockout, instruct employees to shut it down using normal stopping procedures. 
  4. Operate the switch, valve or other shut-off device to isolate the energy source from the machinery. 
  5. Lockout or tagout the energy isolating device (using a switch, valve or other shut-off device) only by using the authorized employee’s assigned lock. 
  6. After verifying that all employees are clear of machinery, attempt to operate machinery using normal start-up procedures to confirm that the equipment will not operate. (Caution: Return control to off position after testing.) 
  7. While the equipment is locked out, the employee whose key locked the machinery must retain the key in his or her possession at all times. Only the person who applied the lock is authorized to remove it. 
  8. Once work is completed, clear the machine of all nonessential tools and materials, issue a warning to workers to stay clear of the machinery, and notify all affected employees that the lockout/tagout device has been removed. Locks must only be removed after all work is completed, the equipment is closed, and all guards are replaced. 

Guidelines to control hazardous energy

  • Employers must develop and implement a written lockout/tagout program to minimize exposure to hazards associated with the unexpected startup of machinery or equipment, or the release of stored or residual energy. 
  • Whenever workers perform service or maintenance on machinery or equipment, they must isolate that equipment from all energy sources. Workers must use an energy-isolating locking device to lockout equipment, or place a tagging device on it, according to established and documented procedures. 
  • Employers are responsible for training employees involved in the energy control program. They must keep written documentation of the training on file, including dates and the names of participants. 
  • Employers are required to review lockout/tagout procedures annually to ensure the program’s continued effectiveness. They must conduct reviews with all employees who are authorized to lockout equipment whenever lockout procedures are used. Employers should also review tagout procedures with all authorized employees, as well as those workers whose jobs are impacted by lockout/tagout procedures.
  • When hiring outside contractors to perform equipment service or maintenance, each authorized employee must affix a personal lockout or tagout device to the affected energy source. 
  • When service or maintenance extends beyond a normal work shift, employees must establish procedures that assure the continuity of lockout/tagout protection, including the orderly transfer of lockout/tagout control.

Following these steps and guidelines for properly controlling the release of hazardous energy can help employers protect their employees from serious injury and avoid the costly impacts of failing to follow lockout/tagout procedures.


Bureau of Labor Statistics
National Safety Council