- Standard Number:
OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.
November 21, 2000
Charles J. Kelly, Director
Industry Human Resources Issues
Edison Electric Institute
701 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20004-5000
Dear Mr. Kelly:
Thank you for your February 17 and 24, 2000 letters to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regarding tagging issues and the Electrical Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution standard, 29 CFR §1910.269. We also appreciate the opportunity we had to discuss the concerns raised in these letters at our meeting on February 28.
At the meeting and in your letters, you described Edison Electric Institute's (EEI's) understanding of the hazardous energy control procedure under the system operator provision, §§1910.269(d)(8)(v) and .269(x). Furthermore, your February 24 letter petitions OSHA, under Section 6(b) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, to commence rulemaking to address this issue if the EEI position is incorrect.
OSHA is currently evaluating our guidelines regarding the use of interpretation letters, as opposed to compliance directives, to respond to policy questions. The matters that you raised are largely policy concerns; thus, they will be incorporated into our directive system. For customer service purposes, we are issuing this letter to you at this time. Your questions and our replies follow:
Question #1: The following outlines the procedures and practices currently utilized in many companies. Obviously, there will be variations, but the basic elements are very similar.
When work is to be performed that requires removing hazardous energy from all or a portion of an operating system, a work request is submitted to the operating authority ("system operator") that has exclusive control of all or a portion of an operating system.
That operating authority determines the operations that are to be performed (switching, valving, tagging, etc.) and documents the sequence of operations to be performed.
A qualified employee is then assigned to perform the operations creating an isolated zone and installs a master tag for the operating authority.
The operating authority informs the person in charge of performing the work that the isolation and tagging has been performed (person in charge is defined as the supervisor, foreman, or lead worker, depending on agreements and past practice, who remains at the job-site for the duration of the work).1 That person then presents himself or herself to the operating authority, receives, and reviews the isolation steps (typically on a uniquely numbered permit or work order) that have been performed and "signs on" to a clearance sheet.
The person in charge then reports to the work location, or another central meeting place, and confers with all the personnel that will perform the work. A job briefing is conducted which includes a thorough review and walk-down by the personnel that will perform the work of the principal isolation points and tagging that has been performed.2 The person in charge will remain at the job-site until all work is completed, and holds the clearance for the isolated and tagged equipment.
Upon completion of the work, the person in charge shall perform a walk-down to ensure that all work is completed and all personnel are clear of the job site.
The person in charge will then report back to the operating authority in-person, report on the status of the work (completed) and sign off of the clearance sheet, releasing the clearance back to the operating authority who will assign a qualified employee to remove the master tags and perform the necessary steps to return the system to service.
The actions of the person in charge, outlined in #5, #6, and #7 above, take place in lieu of having each worker report to a control room, or other location, to sign on and off of a clearance sheet. EEI believes this stated procedure is equivalent to an employee signature and affords the employees a level of protection equivalent to that provided by the implementation of a personal lockout or tagout device. Is this correct?
When a group performs servicing or maintenance, a master tag may be used on an energy isolating device as long as the energy control procedure "affords the employees a level of protection equivalent to that provided by the implementation of a personal lockout or tagout device."3 See §1910.269(d)(8)(ii); see also §1910.269(d)(8)(v)(A). Steps 5, 6 and 7 of your seven step procedure do not afford this level of protection. The procedure relies on the person in charge to oversee and to account for each crew member. This is unacceptable because it transfers responsibility for each crew member's personal safety to the person in charge. For example, the walk-down in your Step 6 is not equivalent to use of a personal control and accountability procedure, such as each employee signing off a master tag before a lockout or tagout device is removed and the equipment reenergized. (See question 2 for a discussion of personal control and accountability procedures and devices.)
Your use of the term "system operator" suggests that you are addressing a situation governed by paragraph (d)(8) (v), which allows a "system operator" to place and remove lockout and tagout devices in lieu of authorized employees when the energy isolating device (EID) is in a central location under the exclusive control of the system operator.
The applicability of paragraph (d)(8)(v) does not alter the requirement that the energy control procedure afford "employees a level of protection equivalent to that provided by the implementation of a personal lockout or tagout device." See paragraph (d)(8)(v)(A). Therefore, whether or not the seven step procedure falls under the system operator provision, the failure of the procedure to provide this level of protection makes it unacceptable.
Question #2: What types of personal control and accountability devices are acceptable to OSHA? For example, are tear-off tags, coin-like tokens, or personal identification cards acceptable?
Reply: An acceptable personal accountability procedure must ensure, at a minimum, that each authorized employee takes a physical step that uniquely identifies that employee (such as signing a master tag or surrendering an ID card) before starting work and, at the conclusion of the job, takes a reverse step (such as signing off the master tag or retrieving the ID card) before the energy isolating device is released and the equipment reenergized. Tear-off tags, coin-like tokens, personal identification cards, a sign-in/sign-out log, or other personal accountability devices are acceptable and considered "personal tagout devices" as long as (1) they identify each authorized employee being protected and (2) the person in charge (principal and primary authorized employees), system operator, and other relevant persons can reliably ascertain the identity of and account for each individual who is being protected by each respective energy isolating device.4
The use of these personal tagout (accountability) devices, when they are part of a comprehensive group control and accountability tagout program (energy control procedure; employee training; periodic inspections), must provide each individual authorized employee with a degree of protection that is equivalent to the use of a personal lock.
Question #3: Is it necessary for each authorized employee to go to a control room to sign on and off a master tag or other clearance mechanism?
Reply: No. Logical and acceptable alternative locations would be at or near the equipment or at the location where the isolating devices are placed. For example, the principal authorized employee could simply keep the clearance tag or sheet that is used for individual employee sign on and off with the work order at the equipment being serviced. The signed clearance tag or sheet, with the work authorization order, could then be returned, when the job is complete, to the system operator and attached to the master tag or other clearance mechanism, thereby maintaining accountability for the exposed workers.5
Question #4: In the preamble to the rule, OSHA suggested that the system operator provision, 1910.269(d)(8)(v), only applies when "one person, the 'system operator,' had the authority to operate energy control devices and place and remove tags, and that all such control devices are physically located in a central location from which other employees are physically barred from access." However, although some energy isolating devices are installed in central locations, others are dispersed throughout the plant. EEI interprets §1910.269(d)(8)(v) to allow any person who meets the definition of "system operator" to place and remove tags on energy isolating devices throughout the plant. Is this correct?
Reply: No. Paragraph (d)(8)(v) permits a system operator to place and remove lockout and tagout devices only when the energy isolating devices are in a central location under the exclusive control of the system operator. OSHA considers an EID to be within the exclusive control of a system operator if access by employees, other than the system operator, to the EID is physically limited, and the authorized employees who will be protected by the lockout/tagout device are allowed entry for the sole purpose of verifying, in the presence of a system operator, that deenergization and lockout/tagout have occurred.6 The "central location" to which paragraph (d)(8)(v) refers means a location to which access is physically limited to one or more persons acting as a system operator during the servicing operation. A plant can have more than one "central location" within the meaning of paragraph (d)(8)(v) as long as the access restriction applies to each such location. Energy isolating devices that are located outside a "central location" are not governed by these system operator exclusive control provisions. (See question 5 discussion.) However, as discussed in the reply to question 1, the system operator provision, when it applies, does not alter the basic requirement for personal accountability by each authorized employee.
Question #5: Is the level of control exercised by the system operator over the energy isolating devices depicted in the videotape shown at the February 28 meeting, as further explained in the letters outlining the 7-step procedure, commonly used in the electric utility industry, consistent with the system operator provision specifically and the lockout/tagout standard generally?
Reply: Yes, provided that each authorized employee uses personal accountability and control procedures before starting work and upon completion of work, as required under §§1910.269 (d) (8)(ii)(D) and (d)(8)(v). As discussed in the reply to question #4, however, the system operator provision only applies to energy isolating devices installed in a central location that are under the exclusive control of the system operator. Energy isolating devices installed on the plant floor or other areas (e.g., outside fluid conveyance equipment) not meeting this criteria are not governed by the system operator provisions.
Your contention that OSHA intended the system operator provision to allow the industry to continue to use tagging procedures like those outlined in the NIPSCO decision and in EEI's video is inaccurate. The issue in NIPSCO was whether failure to use lockout was per se a recognized hazard in the utility industry. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded it was not because some tagout systems had proven effective, and in the final rule OSHA itself provided that an effective tagout system could be used in lieu of lockout.
However, as discussed in the responses to Questions 1 and 4, tagging systems covered by the system operator, §1910.269(d)(8)(v)(A), provision and tagging systems for other EIDs, required by §1910.269(d) (8)(ii), must still include the personal control and accountability procedures to provide employees with protection "equivalent to that provided by personal lockout or tagout devices." (59 Federal Register at 4364, col. 1.) Therefore, the utility industry tagging systems that do not include personal control and accountability procedures that provide this level of protection are not allowed by the system operator provision.
In fact, the proposed group lockout/tagout requirement did not specify the use of individual locks or tags by individual employees in the group. OSHA reexamined the issue during the rulemaking process and concluded in the preamble to the final rule (59 Federal Register at 4361) that an additional element is necessary as "each employee in the group needs to be able to affix his/her lockout or tagout system device as part of the group lockout ... OSHA is convinced that the use of individual lockout or tagout devices as part of the group lockout [tagout] provides the greatest assurance of protection for servicing [maintenance] employees." Similarly, the preamble discussion concerning the system operating provision made clear that by authorizing a system operator to affix locks or tags in lieu of authorized employees when an energy isolating device was in a central location under the exclusive control of the system operator, OSHA intended that the energy control procedure would still require each authorized employee to take a positive step, such as signing off a master tag, before the master tag or lock could be removed from the energy isolating device. (59 Federal Register at 4364, col. 3.)
We assume that these answers satisfy your request for rulemaking, as the key problem you identified -- the time and expense entailed in having either one system operator or all affected employees go back and forth between all isolating points and the central location - is not mandated by the provisions of the standard. To the extent that you still desire rulemaking, your request apparently seeks a codification of your seven-step procedure as an example of a procedure that affords a "level of protection equivalent to that provided by the implementation of personal lockout or tagout device." As we pointed out, however, the described procedure is unacceptable because it does not provide adequate employee protection. In addition, "[b]ased upon the range of variations that are possible in different situations, OSHA believes that comparative effectiveness of any particular energy control program [relying on tags in lieu of the preferred lockout procedures] can be made only after examination and evaluation of the factors present at each point of application." (59 Federal Register at 4353, col. 2). For these reasons, the proposed rulemaking would be inappropriate.
Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. We hope you find this information helpful. OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at http://www.osha.gov. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of General Industry Compliance Assistance at (202) 693-1850 .
Charles N. Jeffress
cc: James Tomaseski, International Representative
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Footnote(1) Section 1910.269 addresses circumstances such as shift changes and transfer of clearances. Those provisions will continue to apply to these procedures. [back to text]
Footnote(2) OSHA assumes that the authorized employee walk-down occurs before the start of work and it includes verification and testing, where necessary, that the machine or equipment is effectively isolated and deenergized. See §1910.269(d)(6)(vii). [back to text]
Footnote(3) The Appendix C guidance in the OSHA Instruction STD 1-7.3 [29 CFR 1910.147, the Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout) - Inspection Procedures and Interpretative Guidance] addresses group lockout and tagout procedures. [back to text]
Footnote(4) The "primary authorized employee" is the authorized employee who exercises overall responsibility and coordination for the adherence to the company lockout/tagout procedure; the "principal authorized employee" is an authorized employee who oversees or leads a group of servicing/ maintenance workers. When more than one crew, craft, department, etc., is involved, each separate group of servicing/maintenance personnel would be accounted for by its own principal authorized employee. Each principal authorized employee is responsible to the primary authorized employee for the exposure status of his or her group (for coordination and continuity of protection purposes) in conformance with the company energy control procedure. See OSHA Directive STD 1-7.3 (September 11, 1990), Appendix C. [back to text]
Footnote(5) The OSHA Directive STD 1-7.3 (September 11, 1990), Appendix C provides additional feasible examples of group lockout and tagout procedures. [back to text]
Footnote(6) For example, paragraphs (v)(4)(ii)-(v) contain guarding requirements for areas containing electric supply equipment which physically limit unqualified employee access into these areas. These areas have to be so enclosed to minimize the possibility that unqualified persons will enter; warning signs have to be displayed; and entrances not under the observation of an attendant have to be kept locked.
Additionally, unqualified persons are not permitted to enter these locations while the electric supply lines or equipment are energized. However, employers may train employees as qualified employees for the purposes of entering and working within restricted areas of generating stations and substations. While the training for these employees must meet §1910.269(a)(2)(ii), it need not be as comprehensive as the training normally provided to a qualified electrical worker, if the trainee is under the direct supervision of a qualified person at all times. See the OSHA Directive CPL 2-1.18A - Enforcement of the Electrical Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution Standard (October 20, 1997), Appendix B, Issue 13. [back to text]