The Issue of Lock Outs/Tag Outs in Indutrial Related Accident Investigations

CED was recently retained in litigation where the emphasis of the case centered on worker safety, specifically the crucial need for Lock Outs/Tag Outs where industrial machinery is involved. In this particular case, a wood shredder plant had a piece of machinery that resided 15 feet above ground that would catch processed wood scraps and shred them into mulch and other products. Along with processing wood, the plant also shredded other things to reduce downtime and maintain profits. One such ancillary product was used tires and rubber scraps. The market for ground rubber was growing and the plant saw the processing as a perfect fit.

The problem developed when the flexible rubber, unlike wood, could occasionally get caught at the entrance to the processor and would need to be removed by a worker. On the day of the accident, a worker was instructed to clean out the shredder with a broom and remove the rubber debris from the opening. The supervisor at the control panel turned off the unit and then sent the worker with the broom to the opening. The worker climbed to the opening and began to clean the debris away, but there remained some further inside the opening. The worker signaled to the supervisor that he was going to go in the hopper but the supervisor misread the communication signal as an “all clear” message and turned the machine on. The worker was instantly trapped and both legs were immediately amputated. The question was, could the machine have been modified or procedures changed to prevent the accident? After a lengthy investigation and research the answer was a resounding “yes”– and if there was ever a need for Locks outs/Tag outs, this was the case.

OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) has a standard defined as 1910.147 which covers the servicing and maintenance of equipment that can potentially be energized. The standard states that employers or manufacturers need to provide Lock Out/Tag Out procedures where the section of the machinery that is being serviced can locally de-energized and only the person performing the maintenance can re-energize the unit. The only exception to this standard is machinery that meets all of the following criteria:

  1. The machinery has no potential for stored or residual energy.
  2. The machine or equipment has a single energy source that can be readily isolated.
  3. The isolation or locking out will completely de-energize the entire unit.
  4. The machine or equipment is isolated from the energy source.
  5. A single lock out device will achieve a lock out condition.
  6. The lockout condition is under exclusive control of the person performing the maintenance.
  7. The service and maintenance doesn’t create other hazards to other employees.
  8. The employer has had no accidents involving reactivation of energized equipment.

It is for this reason that machinery is designed and programs are set in place so workers performing maintenance or service can protect both themselves and other workers in an industrial environment. CED has professionals with extensive background and training in worker safety and warnings.