Energy Control: Choosing between Lockout & Tagout

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: February 21st, 2012
Topics: Lockout Tagout | Machine Guarding |



OSHA requires employers to control the release of hazardous energy by using either lockout or tagout devices during servicing (or, in some cases, a combination of both). Lockout is the preferred method of energy control since it physically shuts off the juice. Since it’s inherently riskier, tagout can only be done if certain conditions are met. This story will explain.

The Difference Between Lockout and Tagout

Lockout involves applying a locking device to the equipment’s energy isolating device. It imposes a physical barrier to prevent start-up of the equipment.

Tagout involves notifying people in the area that the machine is being serviced so they don’t start it up. Tagout devices are prominently displayed tags securely fastened to a piece of equipment’s energy isolating device while the equipment is being serviced. The tagout device warns employees and others not to operate the equipment until an authorized employee removes it.

The Conditions for Using Tagout

Since they don’t physically bar starting of the equipment, tagout devices are more risky than lockouts. Consequently, you must meet certain additional requirements when using tagout instead of lockout:

  • The piece of equipment being serviced must not be capable of being locked out;
  • You must be able to demonstrate that using tagout will provide a level of safety “equivalent to that under a lockout program.”

The Equivalent Safety Requirement

As you might suspect, it’s the equivalent safety part that causes most of the confusion. To demonstrate equivalent safety you must fully comply with all of the technical aspects of the tagout provisions set out in the LOTO standard.

But even that isn’t enough. You must also use additional means, such as removing the serviced equipment’s isolating circuit element, blocking the equipment’s control switch or removing its valve handle. Each of these measures reduces the likelihood of accidental energization during servicing.

Use Checklist to Ensure Compliance

There’s a model checklist in the Tools section that you can use to ensure compliance with equivalent safety requirements. Specifically, it lists the requirements that tagout devices must meet to be considered as providing equivalent safety.


Remember that tagout by itself provides less protection than lockout. Using the Checklist in Tools should enable you to use it in a manner that’s safe and compliant.