Lockout/Tagout Standard Update: Considerations for revising OSHA’s LOTO standard

By Tom O'Connor | Mar 15, 2022
Lockout/tagout/LOTO | Shutterstock / Technicsorn Stocker

In 1989, OSHA first issued CFR 29 1910.147, The Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout). It is estimated that compliance with the regulation prevents 120 deaths and 50,000 injuries each year across all industries.

In 2019, OSHA issued a request for information (RFI) to solicit industry input on potential updates or changes to the lockout/tagout (LOTO) regulation to protect even more workers. In December, when the agency released its Fall 2021 Regulatory Agenda, OSHA indicated it was targeting September 2022 for a proposed rule to modify the existing standard.

According to the OSHA LOTO fact sheet: “The current standard outlines measures for controlling hazardous energies—electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal, and other energy sources. In addition, 29 CFR 1910.333, Selection and Use of Work Practices standard, sets forth requirements to protect employees working on electric circuits and equipment. This section requires workers to use safe work practices, including lockout and tagging procedures. These provisions apply when employees are exposed to electrical hazards while working on, near, or with conductors or systems that use electric energy.”

Control-circuit-type devices were intentionally excluded from energy isolation while servicing or conducting maintenance on machinery or other equipment in the current regulation. In a 2002 letter to OSHA’s directorate of enforcement programs, the administration was asked if a lockable switch would be an acceptable means of LOTO compliance. OSHA’s response stated: “It appears that the devices in question are control-circuit-type devices. The standard prohibits the use of motor-control-circuit switches and relays as energy isolating devices. Thus, pursuant to the standard, such mechanisms cannot be used to control hazardous energy.”

However, that philosophy might be shifting. According to OSHA’s 2019 RFI published in the Federal Register, “Technological advances suggest that, at least in some circumstances, control-circuit-type devices may be at least as safe as [energy isolating devices].”

At this time, OSHA is most interested in incorporating language to address control-circuit-type devices in its forthcoming update.

OSHA also indicated it may consider modifications to LOTO pertaining to hazardous energy control for new robotics technologies. Employers are increasingly using robots and robotic components in the workplace. The agency is gathering data on what hazards and benefits exist in respect to controlling hazardous energy and protecting workers when interacting with robots.

In May 2021, OSHA identified five additional “hot topics” as major issues under the LOTO standard, including:

  • Relationship of 1910.147 to Subpart O, Machinery and Machine Guarding standards
  • Energy Control Program
  • Group lockout/tagout
  • Multiple energy sources and multiple equipment items
  • Relationship of 1910.147 to 1910.269, Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution standard, and 1910.333.

Of particular interest to lineworkers and utilities, “The standard does not cover installations under the exclusive control of electric utilities for the purpose of power generation, transmission, and distribution, including related equipment for communication or metering; these would be covered by the Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution standard, 29 CFR 1910.269,” according to the OSHA LOTO eTool. Could OSHA add language addressing these types of installations? Perhaps.

The regulation does not address exposure to electrical hazards from work on, near or with conductors or equipment in electric use installations. This type of exposure is included in 1910.333 Subpart S, which covers electrical hazards and safety requirements for the practical protection of employees. It does not, however, address equipment-related hazards not involving exposed electrical parts, which might be a change considered in the forthcoming update.

Finally, the LOTO standard is among the most cited for violations. The top 10 most-cited LOTO infractions include failure to have equipment-specific LOTO procedures, failure to train workers in LOTO, failure to conduct periodic inspections, failure to establish a LOTO program, failure to follow the sequence of LOTO, failure to protect workers during group LOTO operations, failure to identify all or disconnect all energy sources, failure to notify employers, abusing the “servicing and tool change” exception and failure to manage shift changes. It will be interesting to see if OSHA makes any of these rules more or less stringent when the new proposed regulation is announced later this year.

While we wait for any updated regulations, continue to adhere to LOTO guidelines in the newest version of National Fire Protection Association 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace.

About The Author

O’CONNOR is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm. Reach him at [email protected].





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