Appreciating The Control Of Hazardous Energy
Control Hazardous Energy So You Don’t Get Bit
I experienced an event early in my work career that scared me. Ever since, I have focused on the control of hazardous energy. I was shown how to clear a jam in a piece of equipment by a senior co-worker. Now, when he did it, the machine was off. We then pulled it apart and proceeded to clear the clog. The first time I shut down the equipment on my own, it turned on. This was while I still had a large piece in my hands. Thankfully, I wasn’t injured due to the heavy gloves I was wearing. Additionally, the machine didn’t move very fast or forcefully. Thank goodness for that.
The Problem And Improvements
This was particularly scary for me because I was new and was holding the equipment when it started. I could have been cut fairly bad. Afterwards, I promptly reported the accident to my boss. After investigating, I learned that the method I was taught didn’t de-energize the equipment. What it did was simply turn portions of it off. What it didn’t turn off was a timer to turn the equipment. After that, I worked with my boss and co-workers to make a procedure that would control the hazardous energy for that piece of equipment. We took the initiative further, developing procedures for other commonly used equipment in the department. Eventually, this became a major initiative for the facility.
A Different Perspective On The Control Of Hazardous Energy
Eventually, I became a supervisor who managed environmental, health, and safety. It gave me a very different perspective. The push to produce is strong in manufacturing. Its so strong that it affects the perspective of employees. See, I’m sure that no one wants to get hurt at work. But you’d be surprised at how tempting it can be to take a shortcut “just this once”. The expectations put on employees can be pretty heavy. Naturally, they may attempt to get the job done however they can. Before I joined management, I also thought heavily about getting the job done.
Fortunately, as I grew in the role, I developed an appreciation for safety within the context of production. There are definite needs for safety compliance. But, practical safety is also a big deal. It’s easier to make needed changes if they mesh well with existing job duties. Adding more requirements to already busy people can make it easy for them to make a mistake. I found that setting people up for success in their job duties could go far in improving the control of hazardous energy. It also helps improve general safety in the workplace.
Not Controlling Hazardous Energy: A Taste of the Cost
In many manufacturing processes, the materials are more durable than human flesh and bone. It may not be the first or even first several times a shortcut is taken that someone is “bitten” by a piece of machinery. But the results can be catastrophic in the pain and damage done to a person. Additionally, there is the cost of having to respond to the emergency. You aren’t usually going to be producing at full capacity when someone is seriously hurt.
The injured employee can’t perform their duties. If the responders are primarily general workers, they are not not doing their production roles. Management will now need to do a report and investigation. Workers compensation usually has a deductible that must be paid. Seeing the trend here? Not controlling hazardous energy is costly in many ways.
Tips For The Control Of Hazardous Energy
The tips are going to be focused on controlling hazardous energy in the workplace. With that said, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has standards dealing with the control of hazardous energy. For the general industry, the standard is found here. OSHA also provides a fact sheet useful in boiling down much of the requirements into the practices and procedures needed to de-energize equipment. It’s found here.
Control Of Hazardous Energy Procedures
When you go out to make procedures, it can be a daunting task. Because of that, a team should be made where possible, comprised of a representative for safety, maintenance, and the equipment operations. Such a team will bring different knowledge bases together and ensure that the procedures needed to de-energize equipment are compliant, practical, and effective. In some cases, you will not need a procedure for every individual piece of equipment. Why? Because some equipment is set-up such that when you de-energize one, you really are de-energizing several pieces of equipment. It makes sense to combine the equipment into one procedure in such a case.
In other situations, it is far more advantageous to create procedures for each piece of equipment. In such cases, depending on the equipment, you can de-energize just the part of the equipment you need to work on, leaving the rest operational.
Core De-Energizing Steps
Whatever the situation or set-up, some general steps for de-energizing equipment are:
Communicate that equipment will be de-energized to all affected employees.
Turn off the sources of hazardous energy (electrical panels, airlines, chemical valves) and applying locks and tags.
Release any potentially stored residual hazardous energy (airlines, gravity platforms, hydraulic fluid, etc.)
Verify that the equipment is de-energized. You typically use the equipment controls to do this.
The re-energizing process is similar, with it consisting mostly of reversing the aforementioned steps. Each step is needed for practical and compliant safety. However, the list I gave is not all encompassing.
Check Your Work
I consider the verification step to be the most important. This is because it is what tells you if you de-energized the equipment. If you did all the steps, but the equipment still moves, something is off. It’s definitely worth stopping the work and taking a closer look. Where possible, avoid de-energizing the controls themselves. Usually you are not working on them specifically. So in this case, de-energizing them would not be needed. However, if you do de-energize your controls, how do you know you actually de-energized the equipment? Just because the equipment doesn’t start doesn’t necessarily mean it is de-energized. Don’t take a chance. Be sure.