The importance of hazardous energy programs

Jul 12, 2019

For workers who perform maintenance on machinery, one of the most considerable risks to their safety is the sudden release of energy. Whether that means an electrical surge or an unexpected startup of the machinery, the injuries involved are often severe. OSHA refers to these sudden releases as “hazardous energy,” and employers must protect workers from them.

What is hazardous energy?

“Hazardous energy” refers to various energy sources that can harm workers, including:

  • Electrical
  • Mechanical
  • Hydraulic
  • Chemical
  • Thermal

Hazardous energy concerns arise when workers are performing service or maintenance on equipment risk injury from a sudden startup or release of energy from the machine. Injuries in these accidents are often severe, such as burns, lacerations, crush injuries, or even amputation of body parts.

Federal law requires employers to establish programs and procedures for controlling hazardous energy. This includes using lockout or tagout devices and disabling equipment where appropriate to prevent injury to workers.

How employers can protect workers from hazardous energy

Hazardous energy programs often involve two layers of protection: “energy isolating devices” and lockout/tagout devices. Energy-isolating devices physically prevent the transmission or release of energy, like a manually operated circuit breaker.

Lockout devices add another layer of protection by ensuring no one can use the equipment until maintenance is complete and the lockout device removed. Tagout devices perform a similar function by alerting workers of machinery currently locked out. Use of a tagout device is only effective under the law if it is part of a broader training program that ensures workers know what the tagouts mean.