How to Train Employees on Lockout/Tagout Systems

Maintenance workers have dangerous jobs; when crawling around inside machinery for repairs, there’s always a risk that someone will come along and start a piece of equipment without knowing that there’s someone inside. This is true whether the risk comes from shock/electrocution, crushing, or any other kind of hazard. In order to minimize this risk, the Lockout/Tagout system was developed. Basically, this is a system for preventing machinery that’s under inspection or repair from being turned back on. Lockout/Tagout accomplishes this both by physically restraining the controls of a machine when possible, and by visually alerting other employees to the work being done via a colored tagging system. While we’ll be learning about the basics of the Lockout/Tagout system itself along the way, this article is going to focus primarily on how to most effectively train your workers to understand and adhere to it. Let’s take a look at the basics…

The System Basics

The first, and easiest, step in any training program is simply telling employees what you want them to know. Here’s the initial information they’ll need to know in order to understand a Lockout/Tagout system:

If they are the one conducting maintenance they need to:

  1. Know that before starting any maintenance project in which the activity of a machine or system could pose a threat to their health, they must first go to the control panel for the machine and use a locking device so that it cannot be turned on. In some cases, this may be a ring (similar to this) that fits around a button or dial to prevent it from being pushed or turned, in others, this might mean turning off a certain fuse in a breaker box and then placing a padlock on the box to keep anyone from re-activating it.
  2. They need to attach a brightly colored tag that will get attention to their locking device. The tag should stand out and ensure that other workers take a look at and read it. Speaking of reading a tag, the maintenance workers need to include information like who placed the tag, what they’re doing, and how long the maintenance is expected to last.
  3. Workers should also know that if their project will be lasting across multiple hours or days, they should periodically check on their lock and tag to make sure that it is still in place and intact. If work runs over the initially allotted down time, employees should update their tag information to reflect this; if coworkers see that work was scheduled to end four hours ago, they might just assume that someone forgot to remove the tag and that they can safely start a machine back up.

For machine operators and non-maintenance workers:

Your employees should be trained to always look for a locking and tagging device before starting up a machine, especially if they know that maintenance was scheduled for the near future. You should also train workers to always carefully inspect the details of a lockout tag and fully understand what’s going on. If they’re confused or concerned about why maintenance is being done, they should approach a supervisor before taking actions of their own. Speaking of which, employees should know to never remove a lockout tag if they did not themselves place it there, even when the listed time period on the tag has passed, this rule stands.

Getting Your Training To Stick

While the old “tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ’em, then tell ’em, then tell ’em what you told ’em” adage does speak to the power of repetition, it isn’t necessarily the key to making your training memorable. Here are a few things you can do to make sure that employees actually absorb the information you give them and then turn around and alter behaviors in the ways you want them to.

Make It Personal: People don’t care about things they perceive as not affecting them, it’s just how we are. Because of this, effective training will work in examples that hit home. Maybe you’ve had an accident before, noticed a close call, or can simply illustrate scenarios in which something could go terribly wrong during maintenance in your own workplace. Sometimes it can be hard to relate to a guy on video tape talking about someone who lost their finger in the 1980’s, so make sure your examples make sense and are easy to relate to. This can be helpful if you’re being asked to carry out training by someone else as well; if you want employees to sincerely care about an issue, then you need to come off as you yourself thinking it’s important.

Make It Different: Don’t require workers to stare at a screen or piece of paper for three hours, human brains get bored and tune out long before three or four hours of the same thing – at this point, no one will really be learning anything. Let employees work through possible reasons for a Lockout/Tagout system through discussions, of which you will guide the outcomes. Think about role playing and having workers actually go through the actions of placing a Lockout/Tagout device. Many people learn better when training is tangible or hands on. In fact, most people will remember something they did better than something they just read or said aloud.

Accounting for Variables

Not all Lockout/Tagout situations are exactly the same. According to OSHA:

In some cases, servicing or maintenance work is performed using a group or groups of employees. The Lockout/Tagout standard has specific requirements for lockout or tagout operations involving more than one employee.

-OSHA – OSHA’s Lockout/Tagout training tutorials

Make sure that you teach to such variable situations in your training, so that workers aren’t confused by these situations when they run into them (“what do I do with multiple tags?” “If one gets removed, do the others still count?” etc.). In another example, different types of locking devices need to be used on different machines in order to be effective. Teaching employees to quickly identify what kind of device they need will cut down on confusion and wasted time.

In summary: Keep your training personal, interactive, covering the basics, and accounting for advanced/variable situations as well. Keep these things in mind, and getting your desired results from Lockout/Tagout training should be a breeze.

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