The use of advanced robotic systems is making OSHA’s 34-year-old lockout/tagout (LOTO) standard “impractical, even obsolete, in many workplaces,” according to one law firm.
This new technology “is forcing change in a standard that appears among the top 10 cited by OSHA each year,” law firm Jackson Lewis states.
What’s the problem?
OSHA issued its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for its LOTO standard in September 1979. That standard went into effect 10 years later.
The LOTO standard “requires that all sources of energy, including energy stored in the machine itself, be controlled during servicing and maintenance of machines and equipment using an energy-isolating device (EID).”
However, control circuit devices like push buttons and selector switches are excluded from the definition of an EID and OSHA has recognized that these devices “may be at least as safe as EIDs,” according to Jackson Lewis attorney Courtney Malveaux.
And the widespread adoption of robotic technologies that have developed rapidly in the decades since the LOTO standard was adopted has further complicated OSHA’s use of the standard.
As Malveaux points out, there’s no way OSHA could have “contemplated the recent and rapid advancement in robotic systems.” Shutting this sort of system down is more complex than just locking out traditional, standalone industrial equipment and isn’t “particularly practical, especially if de-energization causes a machine to lose calibration.”
But OSHA will still apply the standard to robotic systems, leading to serious violations that can cause up to $15,625 per infraction and abatement measures could cause a company to have to discontinue use of its robotic systems.
OSHA will grant variances, is working on an updated standard
This has led manufacturers and other employers who use robotic systems to ask OSHA for variances from the current standard.
The agency may grant a variance if an employer can demonstrate the:
- infeasibility of applying the standard to a robotic system, and
- safety features that make maintenance of the energized robotic system as safe as, or safer, than adherence to the LOTO standard.
OSHA issued a Request for Information in 2019 “seeking ‘information regarding two areas where modernizing the Lockout/Tagout standard might better promote worker safety without additional burdens to employers: control circuit type devices and robotics.'”
This request is meant to:
- assist the agency in determining the conditions under which control circuit type devices could safely be used for the control of hazardous energy, and
- act as a lead into a potential update to the standard to accommodate the use of the evolving technology of robotics, as well as the use of control-circuit type devices to isolate energy.
Also worth noting is the fact that the agency’s Fall 2022 Regulatory Agenda contains a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on an update to the LOTO standard, which is currently scheduled for July 2023.