Warning: The tips and procedures outlined in this article are for authorized service agents only. Performing these steps or any associated repairs on equipment without proper authorization, training or certification can be dangerous and void the manufacturer warranty. Service technicians should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for further information. Techtown disclaims any liability for property damage, injury, or death as a result of using these tips and procedures. The items in this list are provided merely as a reference point. They are not a replacement for a properly implemented safety program and regular auditing of procedures.
When it comes to working on energized equipment in a kitchen, the environment couldn’t be more challenging – you are working on a piece of equipment, surrounded by kitchen staff who are usually in very close quarters with you, temperatures are high, steam and hot food is everywhere, and the only thing they want is their equipment back in the rotation. In this hectic environment, it is easy for things to go wrong – and that is where a properly documented lockout/tagout procedure checklist can help.
Locking out / tagging out refers to ensuring equipment that is being worked on stays de-energized until you say it can be used again. This could refer to its electrical connection, but also gas, steam, high pressure water or anything else that can injure someone.
Lockout/tagout goes beyond this; it can also mean ensuring equipment stays powered off, even when it appears to be in working condition. In many cases, parts have to be removed, oil drained, or safeguarding parts disconnected. When that happens, you need to take steps to ensure nobody suddenly decides to use the equipment.
One example (from a real-world situation) of where this can go wrong: a service technician had been working late on a fryer to resolve an issue. The unit had been drained and the defective part was found. The part was ordered, and the fryer had been unplugged awaiting the new part to be installed. During the normal restaurant startup, the manager came in and plugged the fryer in without noticing the unit had been drained. The electric heating element created a lot of smoke from the small amount of remaining oil and could have caused a fire. Had the unit been properly locked out, and signs placed on it, the manager would have most likely left it alone. In this case, proper communication was key. Thankfully there were no injuries, but it shows that lockout / tagout doesn’t always refer to protecting the technician from dangers.
Here are the proper steps you should take before working on equipment:
Make Your Lockout / Tagout Kit
The rules are simple; when equipment cannot be locked out, you need to tag out. This means you must always carry the correct equipment on your truck and use it when needed.
In your kit, you’ll need signage, appropriate ways to affix the signage, locks for breakers and other disconnects, plug guards, gas valve locks and anything else that is needed to lockout equipment in the facility where you are working. Remember, a self-written sign is often not enough as kitchen staff may speak a different language, but most warning signs show clear danger markings, and are available in multi-lingual versions. If multiple people are working on the same equipment (as is often the case in HVACR), each person must lockout using their own lock and key.
Start with signage on any spot that has the potential to energize the equipment. Remember, not everything has a plug, so some equipment is always connected and can only be turned on from a breaker panel, motor starter panel or other power source. Gas valves may not be directly at the equipment and in some cases, a single valve could be used for multiple pieces of equipment and not everything has a physical gas line disconnect.
Before working on equipment, verify how it is powered, what the risks are, where disconnects are and any additional risks involved with the equipment. Can it safely be de-energized and locked out or tagged out? Remember; In many cases, your equipment may be far away from the actual disconnect, and some people see a tripped breaker as something that should be turned on right away or see something unplugged and want to help by plugging it in again. There are also situations where kitchen staff doesn’t actually see you working as you could be on the roof, above the ceiling, or elsewhere in the facility.
Communicate and Notify
Before any work on energized equipment starts, make sure everyone in the kitchen knows what you’ll be working on; ask the manager to explain this to all staff – those working now, and those in upcoming shifts. Ensure this is made clear in any language spoken in the kitchen. Explain clearly what is being done, what it means for the appliance, and how long they can expect it to be out of service. Proper communication isn’t just for safety, it also provides a level of service your customers will appreciate.
Test, Test, Test!
Always verify that equipment has been properly de-energized. Do not simply rely on checking whether it powers on or not – remember, you are there to repair it, so its operation may not be possible even when it is still energized. When possible, physically disconnect the equipment, otherwise ensure the proper lockout / tagout of its disconnect switch or breaker. When physically disconnecting, ensure the proper plug lockout cover is installed to prevent accidents.
Until you have tested, always assume equipment is energized! In a future article, we will look into the proper procedure for testing using your meter, and the steps you can take to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
For gas equipment, close valves and lock them out. When possible, use the hose disconnect to physically disconnect from the line.
When disconnecting equipment, take the opportunity to check the cables and hoses for any damage. This is a also good opportunity to ensure restraining devices are in place (where needed) and to replace old or broken hoses.
When Ready to Test Repairs, Bring Equipment Back to Safe Operating Standards.
When it comes time to testing equipment, it may be tempting to just leave panels off, or leave disconnect panels open until you are sure the issue has been resolved. And in some cases, this may be possible – but only when you are always standing at the equipment when re-energizing. If you leave equipment open, and walk away to a breaker panel, you are no longer in control of its safety.
If you must leave equipment unattended for any amount of time, place warning signs, and if possible, physically block off your working area. Remember, not everyone understands the risks involved.
And finally, when you have tested your work and the equipment can be used, notify the same people as before and then remove the lockout / tagout hardware. Of course, this is also a good time to make sure your kit is complete and ready to use on the next job.