I was employed as a mechanical tech for a chemical pump manufacturer. The company flew me out to power plant in a Midwestern state to work on a piston pump that was experiencing low-flow output. The resolution was easy enough. I replaced the normal-wear parts, which involved removing the front end of the pump, but only after the facility mechanic had properly locked and tagged the "pump run" switch.
I left the gearing intact in the main gear case. As with most brass and steel gear sets, the brass will wear into place, leaving minute filings in the oil. Therefore, the first oil change should be performed early. Also, the gearbox needs to be thoroughly cleaned to remove all residue.
The initial oil change on this gear case was overdue. I had replaced the front end, and removed the top cover, allowing access into the gearing cavity. I drained the oil and flushed the gear box with mineral spirits. The next step was to wipe the internals dry. I used a screwdriver to push the rag down into the gearing crevice. I turned around to grab another rag, when the pump started up.
I was shocked, and the mechanic who was assisting me was livid. We immediately returned to the run switch and found that some monkey had removed the lock. We halted all work until the mechanic could find out who had disabled the lock out. The excuse was, "Well, we wanted to run the process, and we couldn’t do it with your lock in place."
Hmm. You would think maybe there was a reason it was locked. Thankfully, no one was injured. Removing someone else's lockout without research violates both OSHA procedural regulations and plant operations. This time, two lockouts were utilized. The one used by all the maintenance men, and the other used by the foreman, who has the only keys.
I reported the incident, and the mechanic filed a grievance. I soon headed back home, so I have no idea what the ultimate outcome was. Either way, a word of warning. When you use lockout and tagging, and it's your hands in the machinery, it's best to either use your own lock or double-lock it so it requires at least two individuals to override the lockout. Many lockouts do allow sufficient room for more than one lock for just this purpose. From then on I started carrying my own locks, as well as tags that identified how to contact both myself and the plant foreman, before attempting to cut off my lock.
This entry was submitted by Rob Horton and edited by Rob Spiegel
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