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Safety Articles

Article # 9400

Colorful Lockout-Tagout System Sets High Standard

What's blue, green, and red and has 7,000 locks? It's the progressive lockout-tagout program at one of the leading US steel mills. But, this joint safety effort between labor and management, one of the most comprehensive programs of its kind, is no laughing matter.

"We have always been in compliance with OSHA's lockout-tagout regulations," says Frank Erhardt, full-time union safety coordinator at the steel mill. "But, when they changed the regulation, we adapted by creating a lockout-tagout program second to none. In fact, OSHA has used our program as an example to others."

To create a lockout-tagout system that assures maximum safety, the leading steel maker enhanced their old tag and flag method with a personalized lock and key system. "We had always secured our equipment with a blue flag and tag attached with a rubber thong," says James Ireland, OSHA coordinator at the mill. "When OSHA came out with their new standard in 1990, we replaced the thong with the padlock."

Since 1990, the mill has used a blue flag and tag system to ensure personal protection and to indicate that machinery or equipment has been secured with a padlock, and it shouldn't be touched. Each individualized tag has the employee's clock number, name, and department stamped on it.

Some departments at the steel mill have taken the lockout-tagout program one step further by adding the employee's picture to the blue tags. "We worked with Magid to get pictures taken and affixed to the lock and tag," says Erhardt. "Now we can put a name to a face. This has made the system more personal to the individual. We've also found that our employees take better care of the equipment when their picture is on it."

A blue padlock is used in combination with the blue flag. "There is only one key per person per lock - no master key or extra key," says Ireland. "The person working on the secured equipment has the key with them at all times."

A green padlock is used for multicrew lock out operations, which come in sets of 20 - all keyed the same. (Outside contractors use red locks.)

For multi-crew operations (up to 20 crew members), a master lockout box with a hasp is used so that each crew member can place his lock in the box. (Unused locks, if any, are placed in the box, and the entire unit is padlocked.)

A central tagout board identifies each piece of equipment in the plant that is locked out. "In addition to the hand-written list on the board, each worker's lock is affixed to a central tagout box, so we know who's on a job," says the Supervisor of Safety, Rich Wellington.

According to Wellington, each of the more than 6,000 employees at the mill has at least one lock, "We figure every person should have at least one lock, even if they were unlikely to ever need it. A craft person (e.g., millwright, electrician, etc.), on the other hand, is issued six locks or more, because often multiple pieces of equipment need to be locked out when doing a job," says Wellington.

To determine exactly what equipment was needed, Magid Key Account Representative, Joe Schechtel, met with each department manager of the steel mill. "Our initial order for 7,000 locks, 100 sets of group locks, and numerous group boxes, flags, and tags, multiple hasps, valve locks, and plug locks was arranged by Magid," says Wellington.