OSHA Proposes Revision of Lockout/Tagout Standard
October 25, 2016 •
On Oct. 4, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a proposed rule (81 FR 68504) in an effort to remove or revise what the agency believes are outdated, duplicative, or unnecessary requirements in the regulations. One component that might be of concern for ACA members is the revision of the lockout/tagout standard. Currently, the lockout/tagout rule requires employers to have safety systems in place to prevent workers from being injured by machinery that starts operating without warning.
OSHA is seeking to remove or revise outdated, duplicative, unnecessary, and inconsistent requirements in its safety and health standards in response to President Obama’s Executive Order 13563, ‘‘Improving Regulations and Regulatory Review. The current review, the fourth in this ongoing effort, is called Standards Improvement Project-Phase IV (SIP–IV). The goal of the proposed rulemaking is to reduce regulatory burden while maintaining or enhancing employees’ safety and health. SIP–IV focuses primarily on OSHA’s construction standards. OSHA is accepting comments on its proposal through Dec. 5, 2016.
Currently, 29 CFR § 1910.147 states that the lockout/tagout “standard covers the servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment in which the unexpected energization.” OSHA is proposing to remove the phrase “unexpected” from the regulations, reasoning that it takes away from the original intention of the rule, which is that “a de-energized machine or piece or equipment cannot be restarted unless the worker servicing it personally removes the lockout or tagout device he or she has applied” (81 FR 68506). Additionally, OSHA believes it would harmonize the general industry lockout/tagout standard with the agency’s shipyard lockout/tagout standard (29 CFR 1915.89).
The proposal is a response to two conflicting appeals court and review board decisions from the mid-1990s. First, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (OSHRC) rejected the argument that the lockout/tagout rule does not apply when employees are given some sort of warning and thus the re-energization is not necessarily unexpected (Sec. of Labor v. Gen. Motors Corp., OSHRC, No. 91-2973, 4/26/95). However, the following year, the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected OSHA’s interpretation of “unexpected”, stating that the lockout/tagout rule did not apply where a startup procedure for the machine provided some sort of warning or alert for the worker that was servicing it decision (Reich v. Gen. Motors Corp., 89 F.3d 313, 17 OSHC 1673 (6th Cir. 1996)).
With the proposed revision of the rule, OSHA hopes to clear up the confusion, and revert back to what it believes is the original understanding of the standard; that is, all equipment servicing activities in which there are energization, start up, or stored energy hazards. However, concerns have been raised as to the effectiveness of automated alerts and controls, especially as technology becomes more advanced. Many parties believe that by ignoring the GMC Delco decision, OSHA ignores the effectiveness of automated controls in making workers aware of potential re-energization.