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OSHA may revise Lockout/Tagout Standard, faces challenges

Workers in Texas, especially construction workers, know that some machines and equipment are liable to start up on their own or release stored-up energy, causing harm. This is why OSHA has developed what is called the Lockout/Tagout Standard. In May 2019, OSHA issued a Request for Information that would help modernize this standard in two ways.

The first is to use control circuit type devices as an alternative to full energy isolation. OSHA wants to find out, then, what control circuit type devices would be reasonably safe in this role. This will clear up any legal concerns for those employers who already use such devices. With OSHA requesting information on control circuits, they could become more widely used across various industries. Then, the second way to update the standard is through robotics.

There are challenges. For example, OSHA will need to prove that control circuits prevent unexpected start-ups. It will also need to formulate language that authorizes and defines the limits of the use of control circuits. The reliability of these must be based on objective criteria.

These criteria, in turn, must be based on the results of thorough risk assessment, yet such an assessment for each machine will be costly. Such an assessment may not even take into account future modifications made to a machine.

Employers should, in the meantime, follow the LOTO Standard as it is. Should an accident occur, they will likely not be at fault as they would not be found to have violated workplace safety standards. Victims, even if they are to blame for their own injuries, can still file for workers' compensation benefits and be reimbursed for medical expenses and some lost wages. They may need to mount an appeal in the face of opposition, though, so hiring a lawyer might be wise.

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