SAFETY BY TOM O’CONNOR
Hazardous energy exists in two
states: kinetic (acting) and potential
(stored). For example, a rotating flywheel
has kinetic mechanical energy, and a
compressed, spring-loaded hinge has
mechanical potential energy. When the
kinetic energy is released, it may injure
someone who is unaware of the danger
or is in proximity to the hinge or objects
moved by the hinge.
Mechanical energy is typically associated with an object’s motion and position.
Mechanical stored energy can be found
in winches, electrical systems, hydraulic
systems and pneumatic devices.
Chemical energy occurs as a result
of a chemical reaction. These reactions may yield extreme temperatures,
explosions or the emission of toxic or
Radiation or nuclear energy is derived
from electromagnetic sources that may
include light, lasers, microwave, infrared,
ultraviolet or X-rays. This type of energy
may have adverse impacts on health, ranging from potential eye damage to cancer.
Hydraulic energy occurs in pressurized liquid. It is often used in diesel
engines and machinery. Hydraulic systems operate at high pressure that can
puncture the skin like a needle. The
fluid released in these types of incidents
is very difficult for the body to get rid of
and can poison the bloodstream. If the
fluid is not quickly removed by a doctor, injury, disfigurement, amputation or
death may occur.
Pneumatic energy occurs within
pressurized air systems. An example
of pneumatic energy is found in power
washer or air compressor devices. Pres-
surized air can break the skin, as well. If
an air bubble enters the bloodstream, it
can cause a coma, paralysis or even death
depending on its size, duration and loca-
tion. Air pressure also can cause flying
debris, dirt and dust particles. This can
create hazardous projectiles and respira-
The amount of gravitational energy is
related to the weight of an object and its
distance from the ground. As the object
falls, it generates kinetic energy, which
increases with its speed. Therefore, the
more an object weighs and the higher
its starting point, the greater the gravita-
tional potential or stored energy.
Being aware of the various forms of
hazardous energy and performing lock-
out/tagout procedures similar to those
followed when conducting electrical
work can help create a safer workplace.
Additionally, having a hazardous-energy
control program can be helpful.
These programs allow the use of
energy and prevent unintended releases
of stored energy. There are five key elements to a successful hazardous-energy
control program: information gathering,
task analysis, hazard and risk analysis,
implementation of job controls, and
training and education.
When establishing a hazardous-
energy control program, gathering infor-
mation and identifying where energy
hazards are located is the first step. This
will provide critical information to help
create proper procedures for using, ser-
vicing, maintaining, installing, removing
and addressing any malfunctions with
equipment, devices or other potential
sources of hazardous energy.
The second step in creating a successful hazardous-energy control program is
task analysis. During this, it is important
to evaluate machine processes and setup, machinery programming, modes of
operation, tool changeovers, voluntary,
involuntary and emergency stops and
starts, troubleshooting, and more.
After acquiring information from the
first two steps, it is necessary to assess
the threat and exposure level to work-ers. This analysis should identify hazards
and the inherent risks associated with
each. It should outline all scenarios in
which an employee might be exposed to
a particular hazard.
The next step to launching a well-constructed hazardous-energy control
program includes the implementation
of job controls that mitigate potential
safety risks. The final step is establishing
an education component. It is imperative
to train staff on how the program works
and to ensure they know what their roles,
responsibilities and expectations are.
Hazardous energy in the workplace
Understanding the different forms of
hazardous energy, along with having a
hazardous-energy control program, can
go a long way in preventing work place
injuries and illnesses. Such programs also
help create an overall safety-conscious
work environment, which is beneficial
to employers and employees alike.
Hidden in Plain Sight
ELECTRICAL ENERGY is the most common hazardous energy in the workplace. For
electricians, linemen and wiremen, it likely is the most familiar. However, hazardous energy comes in many forms, including mechanical, chemical, nuclear,
pneumatic, hydraulic and gravitational. Regardless of the type, hazardous energy
needs to be understood and controlled.
O’CONNO R is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training
and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and
software for contractors. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. I S T