Hazardous energy refers to many different forms of energy that has the potential to harm or even kill someone. It is often mentioned in the context of an industrial working environment or setting. According to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), hazardous energy is: “any electrical, mechanical, pneumatic, chemical, nuclear, thermal, gravitational, or any other energy that can harm people”. Similarly, in the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has classified hazardous energy to include: “electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic, chemical, thermal and other energy sources”.
Types of Energy Classified as Hazardous
Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of hazardous energy. It is important to understand these energies and how they are similar and different to other types of energy so that we can determine and isolate the source of a potentially dangerous hazardous energy accident. The most common form of hazardous energy is electrical.
- Electrical energy is present in live power lines but can also be residual or stored in batteries or capacitors. As you may know, electricity is very common and is used in many environments.
- Hydraulic energy is stored in a pressurized liquid or fluid. When the fluid inside a hydraulic device is used under pressure, the device can move heavy objects, equipment or machinery.
- Pneumatic energy is similar to hydraulic energy in that it also uses pressurization. Instead of using pressurized liquid to move an object, pneumatic energy uses pressurized air.
- Chemical energy is the energy that gets released when a substance undergoes some sort of chemical reaction. This type of energy is typically discharged as heat or pressure, which can easily turn into a fire or explosion.
- Radiation energy comes from an electromagnetic source. Sources of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum are very dangerous as they’re often unable to be detected by sight, touch or smell.
- Gravitational energy involves the mass of an object and its distance from earth. A very heavy object, placed far from the ground will have more gravitational energy than a small, light object that is not placed far from the ground.
- Mechanical energy refers to the energy that is contained in an item or device under pressure. When a coiled or compressed spring is expanded, the energy that was stored when the spring was coiled will be released.
What Makes Energy Hazardous?
Although many of the energy sources described above aren’t automatically dangerous or hazardous, it is important to know that these forms of energy can be stored to be used at another time, which could cause a potential accident to occur if the energy stored is released at an inappropriate time. This is where lock out, tag out and hazardous energy control programs come into play.
Lock Out – Tag Out
Not to be confused with a hazardous energy control program, a lock out or tag out system is put in place to prevent accidental use of machinery, equipment or systems. The idea behind lock out or tag out is to control the use of equipment or machinery so it can always be brought down to a zero energy state. If there is no energy omitted or being produced by that system, then no hazardous energy exists and the equipment, machinery or program can be unlocked or untagged by certain authorized personnel, and work or research can begin.
Hazardous Energy Control Programs
Lock out is the most common and reliable form of protection as it ensures only those knowledgeable and with the right authority can work on, service or maintain the system in question. However, lock out can sometimes be undesirable because of its effect on operations. If a lock out or tag out control program cannot be used, then a workplace will enforce other methods to reduce the risk of released hazardous energy. These methods might include adhering to a whole list of steps to investigate any and all hazards and risks that might occur when a task is being performed on a system. After these hazards and risks have been detected, a control system will be put in place in order to bring hazardous energy down to a satisfactory level. However, in the event that this type of system cannot guarantee a satisfactory level of risk reduction, then a lock out or tag out system will be used by default.