Lockout or Look Out

April 1, 2004
What do you see when you look at a lift truck? If youre innovative, you might see a lot of things. An elevator. A ram. A door stop. Lots of things other

What do you see when you look at a lift truck? If you’re innovative, you might see a lot of things. An elevator. A ram. A door stop. Lots of things other than what the lift truck OEM meant it to be.

This magazine encourages innovation. That’s why we give out innovation awards to deserving readers every year. But if innovation compromises safety, your award won’t come from MHM but from OSHA — in the form of a citation. Take the case of the innovator who was unknowingly a good candidate for such recognition.

This company uses an oven in its manufacturing processes. In keeping with OSHA regulations, the company uses confined space entry procedures as well as lockout/tagout when it comes to maintaining the oven. Its innovation was to use a lift truck to prop open the oven door to allow "safe" access to the oven. This steel door weighs 18,000 pounds. They figured, when the power was off, if someone were to hit the cycle button for the door at the wrong time, the chains supporting the door could fail, guillotining someone passing underneath. The lift truck was used as a prop to keep that from happening.

Innovative, yes? But I don’t think the lift truck OEM would be too impressed.

This innovator thought about lockout procedures for the oven, but failed to give the lift truck the same consideration. This isn’t unusual. Many material handlers don’t realize that OSHA lockout/tagout procedures apply to lift trucks as well as to their stationary equipment. Unfortunately, OSHA’s lockout/tagout procedures were always mushy when it came to lift trucks, or any mobile equipment. That’s why the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) was instrumental in developing new lockout/tagout guidelines with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The Z244 document has just been published (go to www.asse.org). It gives lift truck operators clearer guidelines for lockout/tagout. It also recognizes the difference between locking out a conveyor vs. locking out a lift truck.

"The new standard expands on the OSHA standard by introducing ‘alternative methods,’" explains Ed Grund, ANSI Z244 chair and president of Grund Consulting, Tampa, Florida. "This is important for vehicles." In its standard, OSHA says you can’t use control circuitry for classic lockout/tagout. You must disconnect the power circuit. But when it came to lift trucks, OSHA told its field inspectors that lockout/tagout meant turning the ignition off and taking the key with you.

"That’s bogus," Grund fumes, "because the ignition circuit is a control circuit not a power circuit. If you follow OSHA’s standard accurately, you must disconnect the leads to the battery set or with a gas-powered engine disconnect the leads to your starter motor battery. There’s more danger in disconnecting batteries or touching hot manifolds than in turning off the ignition key. That’s why the new ANSI standard prescribes alternative methods."

The section on alternative methods says in effect to do a risk assessment of your procedures. Here’s where some "good" innovation comes in. You may come up with a combination of protective techniques, including engineering control, warning and alerting, safe methods training, personal protective equipment or other engineered safeguards. Under the ANSI standard, any of those would be an acceptable form of protection. The whole idea of risk assessment is to get you to a level of acceptable risk.

So go for a tour of your plant or warehouse. Watch how operators use their lift trucks. Identify anything done by the maintenance groups that could be done more safely using alternative methods. Watch out for "innovative" attachments or Rube Goldberg scenarios that would give the lift truck OEM or dealer a heart attack. Do this on a regular basis. After all, staffing and processes change.

Finally, communicate to your people why you’re auditing them. It will encourage "good innovation." Don’t worry that they’ll think you don’t trust them. Just tell them you’ve adopted the management approach prescribed by "The Great Communicator," Ronald Reagan, at the height of the Cold War: "Trust but verify."

Tom Andel, chief editor, [email protected]

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