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What is Lockout Tagout?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Lockout tagout, also seen as lockout/tagout, is a series of safety procedures which are designed to protect workers from injury. Lockout tagout is a key part of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations which are designed to make American workplaces safer, and many other nations have safety systems similar to the lockout tagout method in place.

People use lockout tagout on energized equipment which has more than one power source. The system involves physically locking the equipment's power sources so that they cannot be activated, and tagging the locks to indicate that lockout tagout has taken place. As long as equipment is locked and tagged, it should be safe to perform repairs and maintenance, because there will be no chance that the equipment will be accidentally energized. Using this system drastically decreases the risk of injury everywhere from the factory floor to the physics lab.

A good lackout tagout program has several components. The first is training for all authorized and affected employees. Authorized employees are people who can perform a lockout tagout, such as the people who maintain the printing presses at a newspaper. Affected employees are people who need to be aware of the procedures because their jobs or work could be impacted. Written procedures describing the lockout tagout process, identifying all sources of energy and moving parts on equipment, and identifying authorized employees are also important, as are regular inspections to confirm that employees are complying.

In a lockout tagout, the authorized employee first locks all energy sources so that they cannot be activated, along with moving parts which could cause injury. Then, he or she tags all of the locks with a tag containing identifying information and a warning that the tags and locks can only be removed by the authorized employee who installed them. Once the work on the equipment is finished, the authorized employee confirms that the area is clear, removes the tags and locks, and restarts the machine.

Lockout and tagout devices are available from many companies which carry occupational safety equipment. Companies may also generate their own tagout devices, such as badges with photographs of authorized employees which make them easy to identify. The tags are not reusable, ensuring that there is no confusion when a piece of equipment is tagged out, and the lockout devices must confirm with certain legal requirements which are designed to ensure that they can only be removed by the authorized employee, and they cannot be accidentally breached.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon947813 — On Apr 27, 2014

This article is a good start, but is missing quite a bit of critical information when describing the components necessary to define a complete lockout-tagout program.

Here they only talk about procedures, training and devices. You'll also need two other components to bring it all together.

Most companies are missing the procedures, thus they can't possibly provide correct training, etc.

The stories and perspectives from @Oceana and @Starjo are very common in the industry. Unfortunately, most companies are not complaint due to a lack of understanding.

Spread the word - learning shouldn't be the hard part.

By StarJo — On Sep 13, 2011

My mother works at a cookie factory. They have many machines that could potentially cause loss of a limb or death, so they use the lockout tagout procedure.

Maintenance men usually work on the machines at night so that production doesn’t have to cease. My mother has to lock and tag the machines at the end of each day to protect the maintenance workers from harm, because she doesn’t always know when they will arrive.

There are machines that stomp designs into the cookies with heavy metal pumps. There are pieces of equipment that roll sheets of dough flat between heavy spinning cylinders of steel. There are automatic cutters that chop swiftly through the dough with sharp blades. All of these must be locked and tagged.

By Oceana — On Sep 12, 2011

I work at a newspaper, and though I don’t have direct contact with the presses, I have seen a lockout tagout take place. One day, the boss decided to educate employees from different departments on all the jobs done in the building. The advertising department, of which I am a member, took a tour of the back and saw how the presses operate.

It could be deadly or at least very damaging to someone to get their arm or hair caught in a printing press. This is why they do the lockout tagout on this machine. Before they started doing this, a guy lost his arm while working on it. He sued the company and got a settlement, and they want to make sure this never happens again.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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