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Wegmans cited by OSHA for unsafe work conditions: what is lock out/tag out?

What is it that got Wegmans in trouble recently for security violations? What is “Lock Out/Tag Out?”

Whenever a food manufacturer gets busted for any kind of violation, I think the normally jumped-to conclusion is that its a health and cleanliness issue. For some reason, and perhaps its just the way I think, articles such as the one posted by the @DandC this morning seem to lead to that conclusion.

But it isn’t always the case, for example the news that @Wegmans is facing penalties from OSHA over unsafe work conditions. The problem is not that there’s anything wrong with the food, but that the conditions where people were working were unsafe. Specifically, that Wegmans failed to provide what’s known as a “lock out/tag out” system for maintenance of machinery at the factory. Having worked at more than my share of factories, I know what this is, so I thought I’d explain:

Factory equipment is generally large and dangerous. Maintaining that equipment generally means climbing inside of large, dangerous machines to clean or replace parts. And that offers the possibility of someone being inside of a machine when it gets accidentally turned on, which I think we can all agree, is bad.

Lock out/tag out systems are a method of putting physical locks on power systems so that it is not possible to turn a machine on – even accidentally – as long as the lock is in place. The system is “locked out.” By making sure the key is held by the person responsible for the maintenance, workers can be sure the lock cannot be removed until work is complete. The system is “tagged out.”

OSHA is saying that such a system has not been used in Wegmans’ food factories. Truth be told, unless the system is very large, I’ve worked in plenty of situations where the lock out/tag out is in place but not used. Such is life on the factory floor. But Wegmans is looking at a pretty stiff fine – $195k or thereabouts – for not at least developing the system.

The text of the citation announcement from OSHA is below for the curious:

2011 – 10/25/2011 – US Department of Labor’s OSHA cites Wegmans Food Market for repeat and serious hazards at corporate bakery and distribution center in Rochester, NY.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.