9 Easy Steps to Work Safe with a Permit to Work (PTW)
The purpose of the permit to work is that it helps to reduce the risk of safety incidents. This is done by ensuring that people involved with certain high-risk tasks are aware of the specific hazards, that they take the necessary precautions and that they are competent to conduct the task.
Furthermore, it also ensures that there is efficient and effective communication between the different segments throughout the work from planning, preparation, job execution, hand over, and restoring the area to normal operations.
Safety risk cannot always be eliminated, and each task will have its own requirements related to the situation, the process, the site, and the work which must be done. However, there are several principles which could help in reducing risk, and these are discussed in detail in the 9 steps to work safe with a permit to work (PTW).
Step 1: Prevent
Dangerous work must be reduced or eliminated, as far as possible. The principle involved with this step is to avoid harm and to not expose employees unnecessarily. Prevention can be achieved by ensuring superior design in three segments namely equipment, process, and work.
Proper Equipment Design
Plant must be designed in a way that separates employees from hazardous situations and to ensure that plant is inherently safe. This can be accomplished through the following:
- Minimising the quantity of hazardous materials.
- Substituting hazardous material with that which is less hazardous.
- Moderate or limit the strength of hazardous materials.
- Simplify – removing the complexity of the design to limit interactions with equipment.
Proper Process Design
The process must be designed in such a way that it is inherently safe. The same principles associated with equipment can be used here namely minimise, substitute, moderate, and simplify.
Proper Work Design
The work which must be conducted in hazardous areas can also be designed in a way that reduces or eliminates safety risks. This involves careful planning as well as consideration of alternatives, required for every task.
Proper work design must address use of the correct tools, the procedures, skills, and other factors.
Step 2: Plan
Before a permit is issued, the work that must be done must be planned early. Every task is different, and employees may be exposed to unique combinations of hazards and dangerous conditions. Planning must be proactive and seen as an opportunity to potentially foresee and subsequently avoid any unnecessary risks.
Proper planning will involve careful work scheduling in advance. It involves the following:
- Identification of work to be done.
- The equipment or processes affected.
- Tools and equipment required.
- Whether specific skills are required.
- Ensuring that PPE is provided where required, that all are trained on the use thereof, and that PPE is tested and inspected beforehand.
Step 3: Prepare
Once the planning phase has been completed, work can proceed and for this step, the workplace must be prepared. Preparation is done prior to work commencement and it can involve:
- Shutting down the process.
- Cleaning out equipment/machinery.
- Draining and purging.
- Installing isolations, and others.
Preparation may take time and involve several shifts, for this reason effective communication is required.
Preparation also involves a site inspection to confirm what must be done. Planners may also be required to check whether there is any scheduled maintenance for other pending work orders in the same area, allowing for maximum advantage to be taken of the shutdown window.
Step 4: Permit
The permit will be created from either the work order or the job card. There are several systems in use which allow for certain permit information to be recorded several days before the actual work is set to take place, with the final information recorded once the work starts.
There are also central offices in some workplaces where permits are prepared, reviewed as well as authorised by representatives from operations and/or maintenance.
The person who has the responsibility of authorising the permit will sign it alongside the person responsible for the work, also known as the issuer/authoriser and the receiver.
The persons involved in the task, along with their signatures, will also appear on the permit to work. Should the same work have been done previously, or the work falls into a certain category, there may be special templates used to streamline the creation process.
A permit to work system which has been designed well will ensure that the team considers the hazards relating to the task properly, along with the team knowing what precautions they must take.
Step 5: Precaution
When the permit of work is created and hazards are identified, there are also precautions which are needed to ensure that work is conducted safely. Precautions can include, for instance, special procedures, specific tools, isolations, and any other roles, PPE, and so on.
Step 6: PPE
Personal Protective Equipment, or PPE, forms part of precautions taken to reduce or eliminate bodily harm. Standard PPE includes safety boots and a hard hat/helmet. These, and any other additional PPE necessary for the task must be indicated on the permit to work.
The PPE must be appropriate for the work and it must be in good condition. PPE requirements for the task must be considered carefully and it must be practical, contributing to safety and not detracting from it.
Step 7: Proceed
With all prior steps completed, the work can now begin. For the permit to become a binding ‘contract it must be formally issued and accepted by the respective parties. At this stage, the permit must have all the necessary information including:
- The work to be done.
- The hazards involved with the task.
- The precautions which must be taken (including PPE to be worn), and
- The members of the team tasked with conducting the work with their skills and competencies to do so confirmed.
It is important that the permit is a physical document so that people conducting the work can easily access it. A physical document also makes it easier for health and safety representatives to verify that the work being done is according to the requirements of the permit.
Depending on the nature of the work and the site conditions, a risk assessment at the workplace may be required. These are often a structured methodology that consider the steps to be taken in completing the work along with specific hazards, risks, and controls required to perform the work safely.
The risk assessment, along with the permit, ensure that the work is set up and that it proceeds safely, with the permit controlling the overall process while the risk assessment controls specific tasks performed.
Activities must be monitored as the task continues, this is to ensure that precautions identified in the permit are adhered to and that there are no changes at the workplace, or in adjacent areas, which may impact on the health and safety of people in the area.
As soon as the task is completed, it is imperative that the workplace and the work which was done is inspected, and where applicable, that repairs are tested before the system is re-energised.
Step 8: Pack Up
After the work has been completed, the site must be restored and tools and equipment packed-up. Where used, individual isolations must be removed systematically, with the section of plant affected recommissioned and put into service.
The hand-over procedure is governed by that of the permit procedure. It involves the transfer of responsibility from the team who conducted the work back to normal operations. The permit is then signed off and the team released from the specific duty.
There are also certain controls which can be implemented at this stage, for example contractors may not be able to leave until the site is cleared, all equipment is packed away, and the permit is signed off.
Step 9: Process
This last step occurs once all the work has been completed. It involves the auditing, review, and processing of information from the permit system.
After the permit is signed off, the immediate task at hand may be complete, but that does not mean that the procedure is complete. One of the crucial steps in a well-designed safety management system is the analysing of information from previous permits.
This allows for the identification of trends and any weaknesses in safety procedures. It is also imperative to incorporate any lessons which have been learned into future procedures.
The purpose of the audit process is to systematically review the work, which was done, any safety concerns that arose, any recurring problems, and so on.
Regular auditing of permits offers an invaluable function which can result in new procedures, training intervention, improved business rules, and a more effective maintenance process.
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