Lockout/Tagout for Wind and Solar Energy Safety

lockout tagout for solar energy safety

Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) is a critical safety procedure used in industrial settings to ensure that dangerous machines are properly shut off and not started up again before the completion of maintenance or repair work. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), failure to control hazardous energy accounts for nearly 10% of serious accidents in many industries. In the 2023 initial report of the Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards, OSHA cited 2,539 violations of the LOTO standard, resulting in significant fines and, more importantly, highlighting the persistent risk to worker safety.

As the world moves towards green energy technologies like wind and solar energy, the need for safe maintenance practices tailored to these technologies becomes crucial. Renewable energy systems, while environmentally friendly, pose unique hazards that require specific LOTO procedures to ensure worker safety. The rise in accidents and citations related to improper LOTO practices highlights the importance of implementing and adhering to robust safety protocols in the rapidly growing renewable energy sector.


Renewable Energy Technologies and LOTO Considerations

Renewable energy systems, particularly solar and wind energy, are becoming increasingly prevalent. Understanding the specific lockout/tagout considerations for these systems is essential for maintaining safety during their operation and maintenance.

Specific LOTO Considerations for Solar Energy Systems

Solar energy systems generate electricity by converting sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity using photovoltaic (PV) panels. These systems can present several hazards, including the potential for arc flash and electric shock. De-energizing PV systems during installation, inspection, or maintenance is more complex than standard electrical systems due to the variable, uncontrolled energy from PV modules.

While PV modules can't be fully de-energized, the AC output of the inverter can be shut off and DC voltage reduced to safer levels. Manual disconnection of module strings or using power optimizers and microinverters helps lower voltage. NEC Article 690.12 mandates "Rapid Shutdown" to ensure PV arrays are isolated, reducing voltages to 80 V within 30 seconds and 30 V outside the array boundary.

Specific LOTO Considerations for Wind Energy Systems

Wind energy systems generate electricity by converting the kinetic energy of wind into electrical power using wind turbines. These systems involve mechanical hazards from massive rotating blades and fall hazards from climbing up the wind turbine when necessary, posing risks of mechanical and dangerous fall injuries.

Wind turbines are prime candidates for lockout/tagout due to the high voltage electricity running up the tower and within the turbine itself. Both the wires and the turbine itself can deliver a dangerous shock.


LOTO Procedures for Renewable Energy Systems

Lockout/Tagout for a PV System

While specific procedures may vary by site, the general steps for shutting down PV systems are similar to standard electrical systems:

  1. Announce the Shutdown: Inform personnel of the shutdown and state the magnitude of the energy (voltage and current levels).
  2. Test Voltage and Continuity: Use a clamp meter to test for voltage and continuity.
  3. Open Circuit Breakers, Fuses, and Leads: Disconnect these components between modules.
  4. Verify Zero Voltage: Ensure there is no voltage in each component, then apply the lock and tag with the worker’s name, date, energy sources, isolating devices, magnitude of stored energy, and work being performed.

For PV systems, it’s essential to control both the DC (before the inverter) and AC (after the inverter) sides of the circuit. The following steps outline the LOTO procedures for grid-tied systems, where the inverter shuts off when no grid voltage is present. Always follow your organization’s safety and maintenance procedures and NEC regulations when working on PV systems.

Lockout/Tagout for DC-Side

PV modules will always have voltage, so it's necessary to lockout/tagout the PV source circuit conductors, which run from the modules to the combiner box, to prevent DC power from energizing the DC side of the inverter.

  1. Disconnect Fuses in the DC Combiner Box: Remove parallel connections and isolate individual strings.
  2. LOTO the Output Circuit from the Combiner to the DC Recombiner: Found in large-scale PV systems between string combiner boxes and a central inverter.
  3. LOTO Source Circuit Leads: These are the positive and negative ends of a PV string. Use a plug lock or apply a tag without a lock if a lock on the leads is not feasible.

Lockout/Tagout for AC-Side

On the AC side, incoming power from the grid will be present, and precautions must be taken to isolate and de-energize the PV system.

  1. Remove the Fuses in the AC Combiner: This connects multiple string inverters in large-scale systems.
  2. Lockout the AC Recombiner Output Circuit: Ensure no voltage from the grid between the AC combiner and the grid connection.
  3. Lockout the Low Voltage (LV) Side of the Transformer: If the LV side is not de-energized, AC power may be present on the AC recombiner or central inverter.

Lockout/Tagout for Wind Energy Systems

American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and OSHA collaboratively developed lockout/tagout procedures as part of their safety initiatives for the wind energy industry:

  1. Authorized Personnel Only: Only authorized workers may lock out or tag out machines or equipment for servicing or maintenance.
  2. Proper Use of LOTO Devices: LOTO devices must be used exclusively for controlling energy and not for other purposes.
  3. Single Key Control: Each lock must have only one key, accessible only to its owner, with a tag indicating who controls the lock.
  4. Identify and Isolate Energy Sources: All energy sources to the equipment being serviced must be identified and electrically isolated.
  5. Personal Application of Locks and Tags: Isolating devices must be locked out or tagged out in the off position by the person working on the equipment.
  6. Discharge Stored Energy: Any stored or residual energy, such as from capacitors, must be safely discharged.
  7. Verify Isolation: Before starting work, verify the equipment is isolated from the energy source.
  8. Maintain Locks and Tags: The lock and tag must remain on the machine until the work is completed.
  9. Authorized Removal of Locks and Tags: Only the worker who placed the lock and tag may remove them.

The Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) procedures outlined for renewable energy systems in this document are general steps intended to provide an overview of safe practices. These procedures may differ based on specific systems, equipment configurations, and site-specific requirements. It is essential to consult with your organization’s safety guidelines, equipment manuals, and relevant regulatory standards to develop and follow LOTO programs and procedures tailored to your specific needs.


Importance of LOTO Training and Safe Work Practices

lockout tagout training

Proper training and safe work practices are crucial for the effective implementation of LOTO procedures, especially for green energy technologies like wind and solar energy systems. Employees must be thoroughly trained to understand specific LOTO requirements and hazards associated with these technologies. This specialized training ensures that workers are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to perform maintenance and servicing tasks safely.

Need for Proper LOTO Training

According to OSHA, compliance with lockout/tagout standards, including proper training, prevents an estimated 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries annually. Training should be comprehensive, covering the unique aspects of LOTO procedures for renewable energy systems. This includes identifying energy sources, isolating them, and applying locks and tags correctly. LOTO training should also involve practical exercises, ensuring that workers can confidently execute LOTO steps in real-world scenarios. Regular refresher courses are essential to keep workers updated on the latest safety standards and practices.

Additional Safe Work Practices

Using Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Workers must use the right PPE to protect themselves from electrical, mechanical, and other hazards. This includes insulated gloves, safety harnesses, hard hats, and eye protection. Proper PPE usage reduces the risk of injuries during maintenance tasks.

Following Communication Protocols During Maintenance: Clear and effective communication is vital during maintenance activities. Workers should follow established communication protocols to ensure that all team members are aware of the LOTO procedures being implemented. This includes using standardized hand signals, verbal confirmations, and maintaining visual contact where possible.

Performing Periodic LOTO Program Reviews and Updates: Regular reviews and updates of the lockout/tagout program are necessary to maintain its effectiveness. This involves assessing current procedures, identifying any gaps or areas for improvement, and incorporating new safety standards or regulations. Continuous improvement of the energy control program helps in adapting to evolving technologies and maintaining a high level of safety.


FAQs about Solar Energy Safety

Is lockout/tagout not necessary when working with PV installations?

Lockout/tagout is necessary when working with PV installations to ensure that all power sources are isolated and the system is safe for maintenance or repair.

At what voltage is LOTO required?

LOTO is required at any voltage where hazardous energy could pose a risk to workers. Specific thresholds may vary by regulation and should be determined based on a hazard assessment.

What are the safety precautions for solar panels?

Safety precautions for solar panels include using proper PPE, covering panels to prevent accidental energization, isolating all energy sources, and following LOTO procedures.

What are the hazards of a solar power plant?

Hazards of a solar power plant include electric shock, arc flash, falls from height during installation and maintenance, and potential chemical exposure from batteries.

Are solar panels fire hazards?

Solar panels can be a fire hazard if not installed or maintained properly. Overheating, electrical faults, and poor connections can all contribute to fire risks.

Does lockout/tagout only apply to electrical energy?

No, lockout/tagout applies to all forms of hazardous energy, including electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, and thermal energy.

The material provided in this article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional/legal advice or substitute government regulations, industry standards, or other requirements specific to any business/activity. While we made sure to provide accurate and reliable information, we make no representation that the details or sources are up-to-date, complete or remain available. Readers should consult with an industrial safety expert, qualified professional, or attorney for any specific concerns and questions.


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Author: Herbert Post

Born in the Philadelphia area and raised in Houston by a family who was predominately employed in heavy manufacturing. Herb took a liking to factory processes and later safety compliance where he has spent the last 13 years facilitating best practices and teaching updated regulations. He is married with two children and a St Bernard named Jose. Herb is a self-described compliance geek. When he isn’t studying safety reports and regulatory interpretations he enjoys racquetball and watching his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.