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.

July 15, 2016

Mr. Kenneth J. Yotz
Environmental, Management and Training Systems, Inc.
919 St. Andrews Circle
Geneva, IL 60134-2995

Dear Mr. Yotz:

Thank you for your correspondence to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Directorate of Enforcement Programs regarding lockout/tagout in OSHA's Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution Standard. Your questions, and our responses, follow. We apologize for the delay in our response. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation only of the requirements discussed and may not be applicable to any questions not delineated within your original correspondence.

Scenario: Maintenance and servicing activities are required and the plant owner hires a contractor to perform the work using only a tagout program, although the devices are capable of being locked out. The electrical disconnect (i.e. control switch) is placed in the open/off position, verification is performed, and the panel is closed and secured with a plastic zip tie at the point where a lock would be used. This is all done by a plant representative. At this point, the plant considers the equipment safe for contractors to sign onto the plant's clearance and to begin maintenance or servicing activities.

Question 1: Would the use of a plastic zip tie be considered an adequate means of protection in accordance with the protective materials requirements of 29 CFR 1910.269(d)(3)(ii)(A) and (D), if the location of the panel is in a general use area (not a secured electrical room)?

Response: Yes, if the zip ties in question are one-piece, all-environment-tolerant nylon, they would comply with the strength requirements of 29 CFR 1910.269(d)(3)(ii)(D) for the means of attachment of the tags. The standard, at 29 CFR 1910.269(d)(3)(ii)(A) and (D), states:

1910.269(d)(3)(ii)(A)
Lockout devices and tagout devices shall be capable of withstanding the environment to which they are exposed for the maximum period of time that exposure is expected.

1910.269(d)(3)(ii)(D)
Tagout devices, including their means of attachment, shall be substantial enough to prevent inadvertent or accidental removal. Tagout device attachment means shall be of a non-reusable type, attachable by hand, self-locking, and nonreleasable with a minimum unlocking strength of no less than 50 pounds and shall have the general design and basic characteristics of being at least equivalent to a one-piece, all-environment-tolerant nylon cable tie.

Please note that the use of a plastic zip tie alone, without a tag, would not comply with the requirements for a tag under 29 CFR 1910.269(d)(3)(ii)(F). The standard states:

1910.269(d)(3)(ii)(F)
Tagout devices shall warn against hazardous conditions if the machine or equipment is energized and shall include a legend such as the following: Do Not Start, Do Not Open, Do Not Close, Do Not Energize, Do Not Operate.

Note to paragraph (d)(3)(ii)(F): For specific provisions covering accident prevention tags, see § 1910.145.

Question 2: Would the proper placement of the plastic zip tie meet the intent of 29 CFR 1910.269(d)(2)(ii)(B)(2) for "additional means" by "blocking the control switch" to reduce the likelihood of inadvertent energy?

Response: Yes. placing a zip tie on the closed electrical panel box after placing the control switch in the off position and performing verification, as described in your scenario, would be considered an additional means of demonstrating full employee protection under the standard. The standard, at 29 CFR 1910.269(d)(2)(ii)(B)(2), states:

1910.269(d)(2)(ii)(B)(2)
In demonstrating that a level of safety is achieved in the tagout program equivalent to the level of safety obtained by the use of a lockout program, the employer shall demonstrate full compliance with all tagout-related provisions of this standard together with such additional elements as are necessary to provide the equivalent safety available from the use of a lockout device. Additional means to be considered as part of the demonstration of full employee protection shall include the implementation of additional safety measures such as the removal of an isolating circuit element, blocking of a controlling switch, opening of an extra disconnecting device, or the removal of a valve handle to reduce the likelihood of inadvertent energizing.

As further explained in the directive on Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout), CPL 02-00-147, on pages 3-37 to 3-38:

A key element in demonstrating that the tagout program provides equivalent protection to a lockout program is the standard's provision that the tagout program provide at least one additional safety measure. In other words, at least one added safety measure must be used in addition to tagging the energy isolation device to prevent unexpected re-energization. This independent, additional measure is designed to protect an employee from injury or death through the inadvertent activation of an energy isolating device associated with human error, inadvertent contact, the loss or detachment of a tag, or from any other limitation of tags. Such additional safety measures might include the:

Any additional control measure ("Tags Plus") must be integrated into an energy control program through sound hazard-specific analyses on a case-by-case basis. For example, the blocking of a control switch as an additional measure to tagging an electrical disconnect may be an effective second layer of protection for preventing the mechanical activation of a machine, but this block may be an inadequate "Tags Plus" measure for the same machine's hydraulic or pneumatic hazardous energy sources.

    1. Closure of a second in-line valve (e.g., double block and bleed);
    2. Removal of a valve handle to minimize the possibility that machines or equipment might be inadvertently energized or started;
    3. Removal of an additional isolating circuit element (e.g., fuse);
    4. Opening of an extra disconnecting device (e.g., disconnecting switch; circuit breaker);
    5. Opening and then racking out a circuit breaker;
    6. Grounding of an electrical circuit, if the grounding practice would protect the employee if the tagged isolating device were operated; or
    7. Locking, blocking, or barricading a controlling switch.

Placing a zip tie on the electrical panel box as described would be considered blocking or barricading a switch controlling the electrical energy, and would thus be considered as one additional means of demonstrating full employee protection under the standard. Please note again that in the scenario described in your question, the employer would be in violation of paragraph 1910.269(d)(2)(ii)(B)(1) of the standard, requiring that a tag be placed where the lock would be located. The zip tie, while it may be considered a means of attachment for a tag, cannot be used alone in lieu of a tag, because the standard requires tags to warn against hazardous conditions, as stated in 1910.269(d)(3)(ii)(F).

Question 3: If the zip tie is not considered "blocking the control switch" does that indicate that an additional safety measure is required?

Response: Although the zip tie affixed to the panel, as described in your previous question, would be considered an additional means of demonstrating full employee protection, it may not suffice as the only additional means. The "additional means" of demonstrating full employee protection are a second, redundant measure necessary to control hazardous energy when tagging out is used instead of the more protective measure of locking out the isolation device. However, whether any single means provides the required effective employee protection can only be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and in conjunction with an employer's full control of hazardous energy program. Where any single means of additional protection is not sufficient, other supplemental means may be required.

Question 4: After de-energization, does opening an electrical panel door and verifying zero energy state using a volt meter constitute an "additional means" under 29 CFR 1910.269(d)(2)(ii)(B)(2)?

Response: No. Verification of zero energy is required by 29 CFR 1910.269(d)(6)(vii), which states:

1910.269(d)(6)(vii)
Before starting work on machines or equipment that have been locked out or tagged out, the authorized employee shall verify that isolation and deenergizing of the machine or equipment have been accomplished. If normally energized parts will be exposed to contact by an employee while the machine or equipment is deenergized, a test shall be performed to ensure that these parts are deenergized.

Verification is a required step in both the lockout and tagout procedures, and thus can never be considered a means of additional protection.

Question 5: The standard at 29 CFR 1910.269(d)(2)(ii)(B)(2) discusses "[a]dditional means to be considered..." It also states that "... the employer shall demonstrate full compliance with all tagout-related provisions of this standard together with such additional elements as are necessary..." to provide protection equivalent to that of a lockout device. If a plastic zip tie is not considered equivalent, what else, if anything, must be done? If there is a feasible additional measure, must it be done or simply considered? If nothing else is feasible, has the contractor met the requirement?

Response: The standard requires a comprehensive tagout program to be equivalent to a lockout program with respect to the level of safety provided. A plastic zip tie alone would not be considered equivalent to a lock, nor would simply replacing locks with plastic zip ties comply with the requirements for a lockout program. An employer may utilize a tagout program, if it offers equivalent protection to a lockout program, and meets the other requirements for a tagout program as delineated in the standard. As stated above, zip ties alone do not comply with the requirements for tags, because they do not warn against hazardous conditions, as required by 1910.269(d)(3)(ii)(F). A zip tie can be used as a means of attachment if it meets the requirements in 1910.269(d)(3)(ii)(D), and also can be used as part of an additional means of protection when an employer chooses to use tagout instead of lockout.

When using a tagout program in lieu of locking out, employers may choose any additional measures that provide equivalent protection. While the standard provides a list of additional means to consider, it mandates that employers "demonstrate full compliance with all tagout-related provisions of this standard together with such additional elements as are necessary to provide the equivalent safety available from the use of a lockout device." It is not sufficient to consider additional measures but not implement them if equivalent protection is not provided to the employees.

If no additional measures are feasible and the employer has still not provided the equivalent safety available from the use of a lockout device, then the employer has not complied with 1910.269(d)(2)(ii)(B) and must implement a program using lockout.

Also, as you may be aware, the State of Illinois operates its own occupational safety and health program for public employees under a plan approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. State plans are required to implement regulations that are "at least as effective" as the federal standards. If you would like more information regarding Illinois occupational safety and health requirements for public employees, you may contact the Safety, Inspection, and Education Division (SEID) of the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) at the following address:

Illinois Department of Labor
Springfield Office
900 South Spring Street
Springfield, IL 62702
Phone: (800) 972-4216
Fax: (217) 782-0596

Thank you for your interest in occupational safety and health. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the Office of General Industry and Agriculture Enforcement at (202) 693-1850.

Sincerely,

 

 

Thomas Galassi, Director
Directorate of Enforcement Programs