OSHA letter of interpretation: 1910.333 for lockout/tagout procedure
An OSHA letter of interpretation dated August 2015 answers a series of questions concerning the use of 29 CFR 1910.333(b). 1910.333 covers the Selection and Use of Work Practices for Electrical work (Subpart S).
Here, three of the questions and OSHA’s answers are included. Comments follow the second and third answers in purple italics.
We have electrical workers who install, maintain, repair and replace premises wiring systems in our facilities. The employees will routinely encounter situations where they may work on or near energized conductors.
Will it be acceptable for the employees to use a copy of 29 CFR 1910.333(b) as their written procedure for work that is defined in 29 CFR 1910, Subpart S?
Yes, §1910.147(a)(1)(ii)(D) requires the lockout or tagout of electrical hazards for work on, near, or with conductors or equipment in electric-utilization installations, be done in accordance with §1910, Subpart S.
The note to §1910.333(b)(2)(i), in Subpart S, allows an employer to use a copy of § 1910.333(b) as their written procedures, provided the conductors and/or parts of electric equipment have been locked-out or tagged-out in accordance with paragraph (b) of §1910.333. But, if employees are working on energized conductors or equipment which has not been locked or tagged out, then the work is covered by § 1910.333(c), which requires such work be done by qualified persons.
Should we decide to use the option of implementing 29 CFR 1910.147(c) – (f), is it still acceptable to use 29 CFR 1910.333(b) as the written procedure required in 29 CFR 1910.147(c)(4)?
No, using a copy of paragraph (b) of §1910.333 for your lockout or tagout program only applies to lockout or tagout for any work on, near, or with electrical conductors or equipment in electric utilization installations covered in § 1910, Subpart S. If you decide to implement the requirements in § 1910.147(c) – (f) as your lockout or tagout program, then you must develop, document, and use an energy control procedure as required by paragraph (c)(4) of §1910.147.
We need to carefully read OSHA’s answer here for proper clarity. The individual asks, “Can I use your procedure (1910.333) as my company procedure for energized electrical work, or for work near energized conductors?” The answer says that you can use 1910.147 and work on it de-energized, once it has been LOCKED AND TAGGED per 1910.147.
OSHA also says that if one works the system energized, only a Qualified Person may do so, and then only by following provisions laid out in 1910.333(C). This section of 1910.333 brings a host of additional requirements, including using non-conductive ladders, removing all conductive apparel, using non-conductive equipment (including tools), and much more.
OSHA gives very limited exceptions when energized work is allowed. In 1910.331(a), OSHA delineates the guidelines of when an employee can work on electrical systems when the system has not been locked, tagged, and verified. The article states that electrical parts must be de-energized before employees work on or near these parts, “unless the employer can demonstrate that de-energizing introduces additional or increased hazards or is infeasible due to equipment design or operational limitations.”
e-Hazard strongly recommends that any employee who meets the requirements of 1910.333(a) to perform energized work do so only with a well-written procedure that addresses all of the requirements of 1910.333(c), as well as the thoroughly-documented procedures found in NFPA 70E, Article 130.1(B).
This is the only way to ensure that energized work allowances are kept to an absolute minimum. This will also ensure that when work is conducted on electrically-energized circuits (or near them), all appropriate safety precautions are taken. We simply cannot relax in this area. We must keep in mind the seriousness of allowing energized work at our facilities.
When the employees encounter situations where NFPA 70E Article 120 requires complex lockout/tagout procedures, will it be acceptable for the employees to continue using 29 CFR 1910.333(b) as the written procedure?
NFPA 70E is an industry consensus standard. It is generally not enforced by OSHA. However, compliance with NFPA 70E is an acceptable means of hazard abatement.
The use of a copy of §1910.333(b) as your written procedure is allowed if the work is covered by §1910.333, as described in §1910.147(a)(1)(ii)(D). Similar requirements for a so-called “complex lockout or tagout” are in §1910.147(f)(3) – (4), in the “group lockout or tagout,” and “shift or personnel changes” sections. In note 2, to §1910.333(b)(2), compliance with §1910.147(f)(3) – (4) is deemed compliance with§1910.333(b)(2).
Again, for the employers and employees, clarity is the key. All employees must be properly trained in methods of lockout/tagout/verification. The method can consist of a customized LOTO program at the work site or the simple adoption of 1910.333 for electrical-specific hazards. No matter what is chosen, the procedure(s) must be clearly communicated to all employees to fend off any confusion. Reaching a zero-energy state prior to work is critical, whether it is a hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical, or other system. This includes hazards due to gravity (falling parts), and fall from height exposure.
For site safety, the best approach utilizes a written safety program that incorporates all safety rules in one clear location. This safety program should clearly spell out what method(s) of LOTO to use, and if necessary, any special adoptions for specific circumstances.
Guidance for the electrical safety program (often abbreviated ESP) can be found in NFPA 70E, Annex E “Electrical Safety Program.” Informative Annex G provides more information on an electrical-specific LOTO program as well. Another option requires hiring a company like e-Hazard, which specializes in writing ESPs, to write your company’s ESP. The ESP can be adapted to any company-specific situation and even unique situations.
Electrical workers need clear and simple safety rules that avoid injuries and potential death from all forms of electrical hazards. A well-written safety program avoids any possible confusion when questions arise involving safety in any realm. Remember, electricity has one goal – get to a zero-energy state. If you and I provide that path through shock or arc flash, we become the victims, often of our own doing.
Never skip proper LOTO and verification. NEVER take working energized lightly.
Ken Sellars is an instructor of electrical safety, NEC, Grounding/Bonding and Arc Flash Safety courses nationwide.