Lockout Tagout (LOTO) is a critical safety procedure that protects workers from hazardous energy sources during maintenance, repair, or cleaning activities. The traditional LOTO procedure involves multiple steps to ensure that equipment is isolated and de-energized before workers can safely perform their tasks. This system involves several steps such as identifying energy sources, disconnecting equipment from its energy source, and applying locks and tags to prevent inadvertent re-energization. The use of locks and tags is critical as it serves as a clear visual cue that the equipment is being serviced and should not be powered on until the locks and tags are removed. To implement the lockout tagout system, different types of employees should be trained.
While the traditional LOTO process is effective, it can be time-consuming, cumbersome, and prone to errors. Workers may have to spend a significant amount of time identifying energy sources and determining the appropriate lockout points. They may also have to manage multiple keys and tags, which can be misplaced or lost, leading to potential safety hazards.
In this article, we will explore recent technological advancements that are revolutionizing lockout tagout procedures away from the traditional process and how technology is leading this significant change in safety.
Emerging Technological Advancements in LOTO Procedures
Recent technological advancements are making the LOTO process more efficient, effective, and safer. Below are some of the technological advancements in lockout tagout procedures.
Electronic Lockout Tagout
Unlike the traditional LOTO systems that use physical locks and tags, electronic LOTO systems use electronic locks and tags. The use of electronic locks and tags eliminates the need for physical keys and tags, which significantly reduces the risk of misplaced or lost keys. This feature also allows the electronic LOTO systems to be more efficient in managing and monitoring the LOTO process.
One of the advantages of electronic LOTO systems is their ability to provide real-time information on the status of equipment. With electronic systems, managers can easily access data on the status of equipment and manage the LOTO process remotely. This real-time information also makes it easier to monitor the progress of maintenance and repair work, ensuring that the equipment is locked out for the duration of the maintenance or repair process.
Mobile apps can streamline the LOTO process by providing workers with step-by-step instructions, checklists, and digital forms. Workers can use their smartphones or tablets to access the LOTO procedure, reducing the need for paper-based systems - reducing the risk of lost or misplaced documents.
One of the benefits of mobile apps is that they can provide workers with easy access to LOTO procedures, regardless of their location. Workers can access the procedure from their mobile devices, eliminating the need for them to be physically present at the equipment site. This can save time and improve productivity, as workers can complete the procedure more quickly and efficiently. With the emergence of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), workers become more connected which means improved communication, enhanced automated data-collection, and real-time alerts, notifications, and intervention approaches.
Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology can automate the LOTO process by tracking equipment status and worker location. RFID tags can be placed on equipment, and RFID readers can be used to verify the status of the equipment and ensure that workers are in the correct location before starting work. This feature can prevent accidents and injuries by ensuring that workers are not in danger zones when equipment is in use.
Augmented reality (AR) technology can provide workers with real-time information and guidance by overlaying digital information on physical equipment, such as equipment status, instructions, and safety information. By overlaying digital information on physical equipment, AR can ensure that workers have access to all the information they need to safely and effectively lock out and tag equipment. This can reduce the risk of accidents and injuries by ensuring that all necessary steps are completed.
Moreover, workers can use AR technology to access information without having to refer to paper-based systems or other devices. This can save time and improve productivity by enabling workers to complete LOTO procedures more quickly and efficiently.
Industry Case Studies
Here are two case studies where organizations have revolutionized their safety programs, including lockout tagout procedures, through some emerging technological advancements discussed above.
Case Study 1
Constellation Home, an electrical and home improvement company, has been using a paper-based system for their Near-Miss program - resulting in hours of administration work that provides little to no capability for reporting or creating relevant insights. After implementing a mobile application to streamline its Near-Miss program, the company was able to design digital workflows for different areas including its lockout tagout program, allowing employees to identify hazards and risks in real time and right on the job.
Case study 2
Rockwell Automation, a provider of industrial automation and digital transformation services to other companies, ensured that they are at the forefront of innovation by having their own digital transformation first. One of the strategies they implemented is the use of Augmented Reality (AR) to empower their employees in managing machine performance and maintenance at a higher level of precision. This includes using AR to ensure that lockout tagout procedures are more time-, life-, and cost-saving.
Advantages of Revolutionized LOTO Procedure
Based on the emerging technologies used in lockout tagout procedure, here are some advantages that revolutionized LOTO system can offer:
- Improved efficiency: Digitized LOTO procedure can reduce the time required to complete the LOTO process, freeing up workers to focus on other tasks.
- Enhanced safety: Emerging technologies used in lockout tagout can provide real-time information on equipment status, reducing the risk of accidental re-energization. Augmented reality technology, for one, can provide workers with additional safety information and guidance right on the job.
- Better compliance: Electronic LOTO systems and mobile apps can simplify documentation and record-keeping, making it easier to comply with regulatory requirements.
- Cost savings: Revolutionized lockout tagout can help businesses save costs by reducing the risk of accidents and injuries, loss or theft, paperwork, and manual data entry - which will all result in saving time and increasing accuracy.
Potential Concerns with Revolutionized LOTO Procedures
While revolutionized LOTO procedures can offer several benefits, there are also potential concerns that businesses should consider before implementation. These concerns include:
- Initial implementation costs: Implementation costs can be significant concerns for companies, including purchasing and installing hardware and software.
- Potential technological failures: Risks of potential technological failures, such as system crashes or malfunctions, could disrupt operations and compromise safety.
- Employee training and adjustment: Employees may require extensive training and adjustment to adapt to new procedures and technologies, which could lead to productivity losses and safety risks during the transition period.
Future Implications for Workplace Safety
Technology is rapidly changing the industrial landscape in numerous ways. One of the most significant impacts is the increased use of automation and robotics in manufacturing and distribution processes. These technologies have greatly improved efficiency and productivity while reducing costs and minimizing errors.
Revolutionized lockout tagout procedures through technology has far-reaching implications for workplace safety. One of the most significant implications is the potential impact on workplace safety culture. With the introduction of digital LOTO systems, there is an opportunity to enhance the overall safety culture within industrial workplaces. The use of technology can facilitate a shift towards a more proactive approach to safety, where employees take an active role in identifying and mitigating risks. Nevertheless, it is also important for businesses to weigh the potential benefits and concerns of revolutionized LOTO procedures and conduct a thorough investigation before making a decision.