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Why Everyone Should Play the LOTO

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The modern world is dangerous. There are plenty of ways to be hurt or killed by machines you’ve never even heard of. But four letters—LOTO—can save lives. And the thinking behind them can change the way you understand your business.

If you’ve ever worked in a manufacturing facility, you’re probably aware that LOTO stands for lockout-tagout. The idea is that when a technician needs to service a piece of equipment, they need to ensure that it is disconnected from the power source so there is no risk of injury.

But just unplugging a giant machine is not enough. What if you’re still working on it when someone comes along later? What if multiple different subcontractors need to work on different parts? And how will anyone know when all the work is done?

Workers using LOTO

© Flickr user NAVFAC

Lockout-tagout is a safety program designed to protect workers and is coordinated by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It’s a complicated regulation, but it boils down to three steps:

  1. Decide you want to work on a piece of equipment, so disconnect it from a hazardous energy source (lockout)
  2. Put a marker on the device, showing that it is locked out and you are working on it (tagout)
  3. Attempt to use the device to prove that power is disconnected (try out)

It’s hard to estimate the number of injuries that this procedure has prevented or the number of lives that it has saved. But there’s a big problem with LOTO: lost productivity.

Factory Interior

© Flickr user Kazue Asano

It’s easy to see why a safety procedure results in reduced efficiency. You can’t use a machine while it’s locked out and tagged out. And since many places have a policy that only the person who performed the tagout can remove that tag, it could be a long time before the equipment is up and running again.

In a high volume manufacturing facility, every minute of downtime could be thousands of dollars of lost revenue or more.

What’s the answer? In a piece for EHS Today, Travis Hessman explains that an exception called Alternative Protective Measures (APMs) could be the solution:

The trick to this…is to think of your equipment not as single, solid parts, but as a collection of individual serviceable components.

If, for example, a machine mostly jams in one particular area or one particular function, there is not necessarily a need to power down and lock out the entire machine to free it.

Rather, crews can design an alternative safety system that effectively protects workers in an isolated area of the machine, which allows them – protected by guards and triggered e-stops, for example – to quickly free the blockage, correct the errors, and restart the machine with minimal downtime.

There’s a message both in LOTO and in APM for everyone, even if you don’t work in safety planning or floor logistics in a factory. Even if you’re in a traditional office where the greatest safety risk is spilling hot coffee on yourself, you can learn something from these ideas.

Corrections and productivity are polar opposites. Whether you are shutting down a machine for maintenance or fixing errors that were made in a spreadsheet, you’re doing something now which is not productive so that you can get back to being productive later on.

That means that in addition to locking out power (or stopping the workflow) you need to tagout the system (let people know that you are addressing the issue.)

Smaller corrections have less impact than larger corrections.. When you can break everything into parts, you’re more likely to be able to deal with challenges without stopping the whole process. For example, if you’re preparing a large document, consider breaking it into separate files so that people can work on it at the same time rather than stepping on top of each other.

Even if you’re not worried about employee safety, the end result must be the same. As the article notes:

But what isn’t allowed is an increased risk to employees by using alternative protective measure procedures. In other words, any APM developed must provide the same or greater level of protection as LOTO.

Try it in your organization. Develop a plan for locking out and tagging out work when there’s a side path you need to take. And try breaking it into smaller pieces so the impact is less.

And if you need help, reach out to our consultants! We’d love to chat.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@LaceyEverett @thenerdherd @naptownbri @indystar Well, when the original source doesn’t answer the questions, people start to speculate. - 3 weeks ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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