Digitized and connected lockout/tagout in the IIoT era

July 14, 2022

Many lockout/tagout devices cannot be directly connected to a network. 

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has transformed the way industrial companies operate. It has enabled Industrial AI, provided real-time production data, and accelerated new-product development. Undoubtedly, IIoT, together with Industry 4.0 technologies and solutions, is driving unparalleled levels of productivity, efficiency, and performance among industries.

However, not all industrial procedures use devices that can be connected to a network. Take lockout and tagout (LOTO), for example. Despite technological advancements, many lockout/tagout devices cannot be directly connected to a network. To this day, most LOTO processes require workers to use physical devices such as padlocks and tags to ensure that energy sources have been securely switched off during service, maintenance, repair or inspection.

So let’s explore how mobile solutions and software can upgrade LOTO procedures into a digitized and connected lockout/tagout, while considering the benefits and challenges of these procedures in the IIoT era.

Digitized and connected LOTO

Safety-compliance software enables workers to access safety procedures and information through mobile devices. It provides consistent and timely recognition of hazardous conditions, collects and stores safety information, and improves risk-management to protect workers. Mobile technology with safety-compliance software, or mobile solutions, can also encourage accountability for workers responsible for keeping themselves safe during lockout/tagout procedures.

LOTO procedures can be digitized and connected through mobile solutions. For example, authorized employees can draw out necessary LOTO procedures using a smartphone or tablet by either searching the machine’s ID number or scanning a barcode/QR code attached to the machine. Providing an interactive procedural checklist for workers that require real-time photos of LOTO is one way to digitize lockout/tagout documentation. Mobile solutions can also fill the communication gap between workers and managers through real-time alerts of workers’ LOTO activities.

Beyond mobile devices, safety-compliance software might be integrated directly into LOTO devices in the future. A recent study presented the development of an IoT-based LOTO device specifically for controlling 230V AC hazardous energy at circuit breakers. The researchers found that this IoT-based LOTO device can provide additional safety as it can be auto-locked. Once it does, it sends automated messages to authorized personnel regarding the lockout.

Although fully digitized and connected LOTO devices with integrated safety-compliance software are still in their early development stages, companies already leveraging their lockout/tagout with mobile solutions can get a head start toward the future of LOTO.

The benefits

With the emergence of IIoT, industries should consider upgrading LOTO procedures to gain exceptional results—think increased productivity, efficiency and performance.

Digitized and connected LOTO improves communication between workers and their managers and leaders, enhances automated data-collection and storage for future use, and provides real-time alerts, notifications, and intervention approaches. These benefits translate to a safer workplace and better implementation of LOTO procedures and standards.

Control of hazardous energy or lockout/tagout is still in the top ten list of most frequently cited standards by OSHA. Companies that fail to implement LOTO standards face huge direct and indirect losses in many forms, such as hefty fines and tarnished brand image. Decision-makers, therefore, should do everything they can to improve workplace safety. If this means investing in digitized and connected LOTO, then companies should do so.

Start your digitized and connected LOTO journey

Lockout/tagout is known traditionally for using physical devices to ensure de-energization and documenting every LOTO activity. With the emergence of IIoT, paper-based processes are becoming a thing of the past. Industries should take advantage of currently available technologies to automate their LOTO programs wherever possible. While lockout/tagout may not be fully automated in the near future, there are definitely areas wherein steps can be seamlessly digitized and connected.

Manufacturers should always utilize any available resources to create safe workplaces. Digitizing LOTO is a smart step in that direction.

Sean Hennessy is CEO and founder of TRADESAFE