Vigilant Blog

News, trends and analysis in employment law, HR, safety & workers' comp

Nov 19, 2020

Company pays $1.5 million for failing to enforce lockout procedures

Safety and Health 

The U.S. Department of Justice announced in a recent press release that an auto-parts manufacturer pled guilty to criminal charges stemming from an employee’s death after the government determined the company had lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures in place but supervisors continually failed to enforce them. The worker, only 20 years old, entered an enclosure to troubleshoot a sensor error, when a machine unexpectedly started up, striking and killing her. The company agreed to pay a fine of $500,000 (the maximum allowed by law) and $1,000,000 to the worker’s family.

The Occupational and Safety Health Act requires employers to create and follow LOTO procedures to de-energize machinery during maintenance or servicing activities to prevent unplanned startup. Simply developing these procedures is insufficient. You must also ensure the procedures are followed and enforced. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and California, Oregon, and Washington’s safety and health agencies have clear regulations, guidelines, and best practices on control of hazardous energy. You must assess whether you have any energy sources and/or moving parts that need to be locked out to prevent injuries. If so, then you must have a written LOTO policy, procedure, and training in place that complies with relevant regulations. You must train authorized and affected employees on the program. When reviewing your LOTO program, here are some key points to consider:

  • Do your written LOTO procedures specify how to lock out specific equipment? If not, develop machine-specific procedures to help employees know what steps to follow.
  • Ensure your LOTO procedures include reporting of unsafe behaviors, conditions, and near misses. Preventing injuries before they happen is key.
  • Ensure supervisors provide positive and constructive feedback to authorized and affected employees to help them continue to be safe.
  • Verify that employees are held accountable for any LOTO policy violations.

Once you know the above information, you can update your LOTO program to ensure it meets or exceeds the requirements and that you’re doing all you can to ensure employee safety.

Tips: Review your current procedures at least annually. Then look to see how well the program is implemented. Could you do a surprise inspection on a LOTO procedure with an authorized employee and see a successful procedure? If not, determine what communication is necessary to ensure workers are safe. Also, require lead employees and supervisors to periodically inspect to ensure your safety program is being followed. If you have any questions regarding your LOTO procedures, see our Legal Guide, Lockout/Tagout (Hazardous Energy Control) or contact your Vigilant safety professional.

This website presents general information in nontechnical language. This information is not legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific management decision, consult legal counsel.