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Hazardous Energy

Energy is the power for doing any type of work, and it exists in many different forms. All types of energy result from the movement of objects, like releasing a suspended load or an uncoiling spring, combustion of materials, energy transfer or electrical energy.






All forms of energy have the potential to create hazards in your workplace. The hazards arise when energy of any type builds to a dangerous level or is released at a time or in a quantity that could injure a worker. Energy at these levels is commonly found near powered equipment that is being maintained or serviced.




Unfortunately, many believe that simply turning off the power before working on equipment makes that equipment safe—this is far from true. It is essential that those charged with servicing or maintaining equipment as well as those who will be working around this equipment know how to control hazardous energy at the workplace.




There are several forms of energy that can be found at the job site. Potential or stored energy is the energy available to do work like that found in suspended loads, kinetic energy or the energy of moving objects like a released load. Other forms include the energy contained in flammable and combustible materials, chemical energy and electrical energy. Electrical energy may have the potential for causing the most headaches and hazards, possibly because it’s found at virtually every type of workplace.




The best way to control these hazards is to prevent the energy from being transmitted from its source to the equipment that it powers. This can be accomplished by doing the following:




Identifying the energy sources. When equipment in your workplace needs service or maintenance, it’s important to determine what powers the equipment and to know what, if any, energy will remain when the energy source is disconnected. It can be helpful to label these sources so that employees will be able to easily identify the equipment that is powered by each energy source.





De-energize the equipment. This is done by isolating the equipment from its energy source and making certain that no energy can flow to the equipment. This may include disconnecting a motor from the equipment, isolating electrical circuits, disconnecting equipment from energy sources or blocking equipment parts that may be moved by gravity.





Dissipate any stored energy that can’t be isolated. Any stored energy must be released after the equipment has been de-energized. Depending on the type of equipment, this may require venting pressurized fluids until the internal pressure is that of atmospheric pressure, releasing or blocking tensioned springs or making sure that all moving parts have completely stopped.





Lock out or tag out energy isolating devices. Energy isolating devices prevent energy from being transmitted from an energy source to equipment and are the main means of protection for those that service equipment. Examples include manually operated electrical circuit breakers, main disconnect switches and line valves and blocks.





Locking out secures an energy-isolating device in an off, closed or neutral position so that work can be done safely on hazardous equipment. They are only effective when they make it virtually impossible for anyone to restart the equipment other than the person who applied the lock. It is usually a lock with a unique key or combination that puts the energy-isolating device in a secure position. Tagging out places a warning tag or sign on an energy-isolating device. They must control hazardous energy at least as effectively as lockout devices; however, they serve as a warning as compared to a lockout device, which is a physical barrier.





Lockout and tagout devices must meet the following requirements to be sure that they are effective at protecting workers:





• They must be durable and work under the weather or environmental conditions in which they’re used. They must be legible in wet, damp or corrosive conditions.





•  Devices must be standardized in color, shape or size. They must have a standardized print and warning format. This makes it easier for all to recognize and understand the device’s meaning.





•  These devices must be strong enough that they can’t be accidently removed. They do no good if they fall off or are knocked off by someone walking past.





•  It must be identifiable. Any employee who sees a lockout or tagout device must be able to recognize who attached it and understand why it’s there. Only the employee who attached the device should remove it, and only when work is completed on the equipment.





By being aware of the potential for hazardous energy at the workplace and knowing ways to release it, employees can be much safer at work.





This is certainly a case of prevention being better than a cure. By removing the potential for hazardous energy, your employees will be safer at the job site to complete the tasks of equipment maintenance and repair.




Diane Kelly is a safety specialist with INTEC, Waverly, Pa. INTEC is AWCI’s safety consultant.

For additional assistance with safety and OSHA compliance, take advantage of the resources available through AWCI and AWCI’s safety provider, INTEC, Inc. Contact AWCI at (703) 538–1600 or visit www.awci.org.
Additional technical information can be obtained by contacting INTEC’s Joe O’Connor at (607) 624–7159 or joconnor@intecweb.com.

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