Lockout Vs. Tagout – What’s the Difference?

The use of LOTO devices is an essential component of a well-functioning LOTO program. However, is one method safer and more effective than the other? The answer is yes. OSHA agrees that lockout provides better levels of safety than just simply using tagout or the use of tags. There are very distinct differences when it comes to using locks (lockout) and tags (tagout), let’s review them below.

When employees engage in the safety practice of lockout, locks are placed on the hazardous equipment at specific locations to isolate the hazardous energy. OSHA describes lockout devices as:

A device that utilizes a positive means such as a lock, either key or combination type, to hold an energy isolating device in the safe position and prevent the energizing of a machine or equipment. Included are blank flanges and bolted slip blinds.

Many businesses choose to participate in a lockout program in which all affected employees (employees who work with the equipment, but do not service the equipment) place a lock on the equipment prior to the equipment being serviced. By doing this, each affected employee is fully aware of the situation and demonstrates understanding that the equipment will be out of commission during servicing. A benefit of using locks is that the locks can only be removed with a key. In order to be compliant, all locks should be standardized in nature. For instance, all locks should be the same color, feature the same shape and size, and function in the same manner.

Tagout features the use of tags to inform employees of the impending or ongoing servicing on a particular piece of hazardous equipment. OSHA describes tagout devices as:

A prominent warning device, such as a tag and a means of attachment, which can be securely fastened to an energy isolating device in accordance with an established procedure, to indicate that the energy isolating device and the equipment being controlled may not be operated until the tagout device is removed.

This method is not considered as safe as the use of lockout. Tagout should only be used during a couple different situations. Situations when tagout only may be acceptable is when locks cannot be used (there is nowhere to physically place the lock) or when the employer can demonstrate that a tag will provide full levels of protection to the employees. It is important to remember that tags are only warning devices and do not physically stop someone from accidentally energizing equipment. Furthermore, tags are only as effective as their understandability. If tags feature illegible writing or ambiguous verbiage they are likely to be ineffective.

Purpose of LOTO Devices
The main purpose of using LOTO devices is to stop others from accidentally starting up hazardous equipment while it is being repaired, serviced, or undergoing maintenance checks. In order to be successful, all LOTO devices should be considered and deemed acceptable for the type of environment they are being used in. For instance, an environment that is wet or features the use of chemicals should utilize locks and tags that are resistant to corrosion and are able to withstand the environmental conditions. Furthermore, all locks and tags should feature some sort of identifiable feature meaning that they should show the identity of the person who placed the lock or tag on the equipment. Lastly, locks and tags should not be placed on parts of equipment where there is a risk of the device falling off or being easily removed.

Lockout is definitely a safer and more effective method than just simply using tagout. Locks provide a physical barrier that cannot be taken off without the use of a key. When it comes to the safety of employees during a LOTO procedure, the use of locks is an effective device choice.

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