NIOSH is asking employers in food manufacturing to share best practices and challenges from their lockout/tagout programs.

In a July 7 blog post, NIOSH officials note that many machine-related injuries in the food industry stem from failure to use lockout/tagout procedures. From 2003-2013, there were 28 worker deaths and 227 serious injuries related to lockout procedures in the industry, according to a NIOSH analysis of OSHA accident data.

Lockout/tagout-related accidents are contributing to the food industry’s higher-than-average rate of workplace injuries and illnesses. In 2012, the injury and illness rate in food manufacturing was 5.4 per 100 workers, compared with 3.4 for private industry overall. That year, food manufacturers suffered 18,620 lost-time injuries and 41 fatalities, costing the industry an estimated $1.4 billion overall.

Not surprisingly, the lockout/tagout standard (1910.147) was the most frequently cited OSHA violation in food manufacturing from 2012-2013, with penalties totaling over $894,000.

“The NIOSH [National Occupational Research Agenda] Manufacturing Sector Council members want to help small food manufacturers with LO/TO, and through this blog we are seeking input from our stakeholders to enhance our understanding of the issues surrounding LO/TO in the food and beverage processing industry,” NIOSH researchers explain in their blog post.

NIOSH emphasizes that a lockout/tagout program “is an important part of machine maintenance.” In many cases, lockout/tagout-related machine injuries occur when a worker “services or repairs a machine or tries to clear a jam but fails to de-energize the machine and lock out sources of energy.”

“Smaller businesses face the challenge of remaining competitive in the food and beverage processing industry, and we know most companies are struggling to keep up with a bustling pace and narrow profit margins,” NIOSH officials say. “Pace equals profit in this industry, but workers need to stay safe while maintaining their pace. The efficient work that keeps businesses viable and competitive requires well-maintained machines and equipment.”

NIOSH urges employers to follow OSHA’s requirements regarding  de-energizing machines and locking out sources of energy. Some elements of a successful lockout/tagout program include:

  • Written procedures.
  • Documentation of each source of energy.
  • Locking and tagging devices.
  • Verification of energy isolation.
  • Proper locks at proper places (isolation points).
  • Training (including skills demonstration) in the primary language(s) of employees.
  • Auditing of work process.

“Companies with established lockout programs have told us that having written procedures ahead of time allows for machine maintenance and service to proceed without delay,” NIOSH officials explain. “Share with us the type of lockout/tagout program you have in your business. What resources were used to implement the program that could help small business improve their practices? What works well about it? What has made it difficult to maintain the program? Sharing your experiences with LO/TO will help NIOSH and our partners better understand the issues so that we can provide the best guidance and resources to help save lives.”