THE PROBLEM: Every year, dozens of U.S. workers lose their limbs or lives in machine accidents. In many of these cases, the accident occurs because the machine unexpectedly starts up while workers are servicing it. That’s why OSHA requires employers to control hazardous energy that can cause these tragedies. The process of doing this is called lockout/tagout after the 2 principal methods used to isolate and deenergize machinery.
HOW TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM: It’s crucial to train your workers about LOTO, what it is and why it’s so important to their safety. As is usually the case when delivering safety training, the first challenge is getting workers to pay attention. Statistics about machine deaths are all well and good. But at the end of the day, nothing grabs attention and makes things real like the story of a real-life tragedy to a real-life victim. Here’s an extremely powerful and stirring account of one such story that you might want to add to your Safety Talks and presentations to introduce the importance of LOTO.
Every year, dozens of U.S. workers lose their limbs and lives as a result of these machine accidents. To put a human face on this reality, consider the story of one real-life victim.
August 16, 2012. It’s day one on the job for 21-year-old Lawrence Daquan “Day” Davis. It’s a low-paying, temporary job. But times are tough and jobs are scarce. Besides, the assignment is a plumb: the Jacksonville, FL Bacardi bottling plant, the North American HQ of the world’s most famous rum maker.
Day is excited for the opportunity. He tells his mom that he’ll make enough money to pay off her car repair bills. “Do good and don’t mess up,” chides Day’s younger sister.
It’s a hot, humid day. Day reports to Warehouse No. 7 early for his 3:00 PM shift. After a 15-minute safety orientation, he goes to the restroom and takes a photo of himself in the mirror, proudly showing off his new work clothes and orange safety vest. He texts the picture to his fiancé, Alicia, and promises to call her during his break.
Meanwhile, down on the warehouse floor, things are going wrong with one of the palletizers, i.e., gigantic machines that push bottles of run down a conveyor to a platform where they’re gathered into a square. Then, when the platform is full, the machine lowers the cases onto a pallet 10 feet below for shrink-wrapping and goes back up to retrieve another set of cases.
A palletizer machine
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. But on this afternoon, there are problems with Palletizer #4. Cases are getting stuck on the conveyor and slamming into each other. Bottles are breaking on the line. Reluctant to stop the machine, the operator wipes the conveyor with rags and tries to keep the cases in line and clear the jams. But it’s no use. So he finally hits the emergency STOP button and goes inside the machine to sweep up the glass and toss out the mangled boxes.
Finding the job too big for one person, the operator radios for help. The manager sends the new “gung ho” temp who had started 90 minutes earlier. Day Davis, eager to get the job done, grabs a broom, climbs under the machine and, lying on his back, starts sweeping the broken glass into a dustpan.
A few minutes later, the operator finishes his own cleaning and turns the machine back on, not realizing that Day is still underneath. Day hears the cases start to roll and tries to stand up. But as he gets halfway to his feet, a platform carrying 60 cases of rum (weighing 1 ton) comes crashing down on top of him.
Workers hear Day’s cries and rush to his side. But it’s too late. Day dies on the floor without ever making that first break.
With rare exceptions, it’s too dangerous to service a machine when it’s still running. You have to shut the machine down before performing the service. But just hitting the OFF switch isn’t enough. You also need to lock the machine and disconnect it from its power source so it doesn’t unexpectedly start up while it’s being serviced. This process of controlling hazardous energy while servicing machines, aka lockout/tagout or LOTO, is expressly required by the the OSHA Lockout/Tagout (LOTO) standard (Sec. 1910.147).
The tragedy of Day Davis is precisely what LOTO is designed to prevent. Had the Bacardi plant followed OSHA rules, after stopping the palletizer, the operator would have attached a lock to ensure that nobody came by and turned it on while somebody was inside or underneath it. After the lock was attached, the operator would have gone downstairs to hit another emergency STOP button and insert 2 bars to prevent the platform completely. The palletizer wouldn’t have been restarted unless and until steps were taken to verify that it was safe to do so.
These LOTO measures would have prevented the accident that cost Day his life. But, alas, those measures were never taken.