Safety matters: minimizing production risks is a top priority for companies in the face of growing challenges. GEA is driving forward state-of-the-art safety concepts with innovative valve technology, enabling users to take increasingly comprehensive precautions. As the first valve manufacturer to offer an end-to-end LoTo portfolio, GEA is creating the best framework for plant operators to contain accidents and reliably fulfil prevention regulations.

In the global market, the demands on industrial plant performance are continuously increasing, as are the burdens on businesses. Increasing production safety is in everyone's interest – from companies, employees and consumers to bodies responsible for protection and representation. Safeguards to protect employees are an important focus of corporate responsibility.

Companies use the latest occupational safety programmes to increase prevention success and eliminate accident causes more effectively. Lockout/tagout (LoTo) devices are an important component of accident prevention – mechanical and visually marked safety locks that enable companies to temporarily lock out potentially hazardous equipment such as valves, conveyor belts or even power sources, preventing inadvertent activation.

LoTo solutions from various sources are available in large numbers on the market. In many cases, however, these are only for specific devices or application points.

We were committed to taking the next step forward in safeguarding the installed valve technology and delivering a consistent solution for our users."- Lisa Schmidt, Product Sales Manager at GEA for Hygienic Valve Technology

The result: GEA is the first manufacturer of hygienic and aseptic process valves to offer its own customised LoTo solutions for all valve types in its product range since October 2021. Users can choose from various technical versions of the locking device for each valve, covering different application requirements and safety levels.

"We started by asking how we could envisage a shut-off concept that was workable and could also protect all the valve technology company-wide," says Lisa Schmidt. "One thing was clear to us right from the start: we could only provide the reliability and flexibility our customers need for accident prevention by developing a complete system."

DISK LOCK at butterfly valve in a brewery
DISK LOCK at butterfly valve in a brewery

Prevention focus on plant maintenance

Process valves require suitable LoTo solutions at multiple application points in liquid-processing plants. A LoTo approach is almost indispensable when it comes to managing the accident threats identified in installation or maintenance work. The accident rate here is between 10 and 20 times higher than in production, according to the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the raw materials and chemical industry (BG RCI).

Process valves are the source of much of the danger: the pressure released by a valve that has been opened unexpectedly can cause fittings in the downstream pipeline network to flake off and injure people working nearby. Escaping gases or liquids can also cause burns or scalds, displace breathable air or ignite.

"Prevention measures that are purely operational, such as operating instructions, are not enough to stop this accident risk," explains Sven Jantzen, Team Lead Technical Service at GEA. "Many prevention regulations therefore require a technical solution like we now offer for our valves."

A technical solution is also advisable because the susceptibility to human error during maintenance work increases significantly. Many accidents can be directly attributed to this: the processes and circumstances are less familiar and the actions less self-evident. Even small mistakes can have serious consequences.

Trends in today's working world have an exacerbating effect here: workforces fluctuate more than they did a few decades ago: we can no longer assume the same level of routine. "We have seen this development coming for some time, in terms of other safety issues as well as occupational safety," adds Jantzen. 

Technology like ours at GEA steps in when there are situations that push the boundaries of the safety precautions that people can take."- Sven Jantzen, Team Lead Technical Service at GEA

Lock-and-key safety principle

GEA's LoTo solution concept provides a choice of several very different shut-off solutions for each valve. Easy to use or maximum fault tolerance? The primary criterion varies for each user and at each individual process station. GEA has created a programme with which the company can achieve its prevention goals quickly and efficiently, without making compromises that could endanger safety; a later retrofit or addition is possible at any time.

AIR LOCK and DISK LOCK for seat valves
AIR LOCK and DISK LOCK for seat valves

For valves with pneumatic actuators, the GEA AIR-LOCK solutions are particularly straightforward. The idea is simple: the compressed air supply to the actuator is simply interrupted for the duration of the lock. Any erroneous control impulse does not take effect and the valve remains in the previously set open or closed position. To activate the lock, the employee in charge only has to pull off the control air hose at the valve control top and attach the corresponding closing device. This solution is quick to implement, flexible and recommended for many points of use.

A locking device acting on the control top alone is not sufficient for all requirements. Mechanical influences from outside, such as pressure surges in the pipeline, could still cause the valve to open, which is why GEA also offers highly secure DISK LOCK solutions.

BELLOW LOCK for VESTA® valves
BELLOW LOCK for VESTA® valves

With DISK LOCK for hygienic and aseptic seat valves, a sealing cap is screwed tightly onto the valve body, immobilising the valve disk. This solution principle offers maximum safety against operating errors and other causes of faults. Complementary BELLOW-LOCK closing devices for sterile bellow valves offer a comparably high level of safety.

For manual and pneumatic butterfly valves, the DISK LOCK blocks the rotation of the actuator, either in the open or closed position. An extended version is available for insulated pipelines. For butterfly valves with pneumatic actuators, the AIR LOCK on the control top is an alternative shut-off solution.

The LoTo principle means that the activated lock for each device can only be deinstalled by authorized personnel. The respective status is documented by tagout identifiers on the device and at a central point. GEA's LoTo solutions are designed for all common lock sizes so plant operators can continue to use their existing safety concepts on the valves.

The right LoTo strategy with GEA

When it comes to implementing useful LoTo measures, many companies hesitate too long because the prevention regulations create lots of unanswered questions for the planner. "Mind Your LoTo Gaps" is the warning call that the trade journal "Industrial Safety and Hygiene News" (ISHN) addressed to those responsible for occupational safety and health in industrial companies as early as 2017.(1) The main cause of uncertainty: the prevention regulations usually only specify targets for LoTo equipment without binding or precise parameters for meeting them. This applies to the "Standard for The Control of Hazardous Energy (Lockout/Tagout)"(2) produced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the USA, which has received much attention worldwide, as well as to the specifications of the employers' liability insurance associations in Germany.

For users of GEA valve technology, the individual LoTo system now makes it easy to eliminate possible doubts, safely preventing complaints and sanctions. OSHA's LoTo factsheet(3), for example, requires a guarantee of LoTo suitability for all newly acquired or newly overhauled technical components. In future, a reference to the associated LoTo programme will be sufficient for each GEA valve. Authorisation from the equipment manufacturer is also required for each shut-off solution. At GEA, the valve and LoTo programme come from a single source. Users of other valve technology have to weigh up whether the selected solution stands up to the tests for each device and each LoTo system.

You can't be too well prepared for the unexpected."- Lisa Schmidt, GEA Product Sales Manager Hygienic Valve Technology

Prepared for the future

Developments like GEA's new LoTo solution system mean companies can create more security in their production operations. "There is a lot of interest from our customers in addressing safety risks with new technical solutions like these," sums up Lisa Schmidt at GEA. "We support them in this objective. Whether it's product safety to protect consumers or accident prevention to protect employees, these companies are clear: you can't be too well prepared for the unexpected."

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