Guidance on Permit to Work
In numerous industries it is not always possible to reduce or eliminate safety and health hazards and risks. For this reason, there must be permitted to work (PTW) systems which form part of the task risk assessment process.
The purpose of the sections below is to provide a guidance for employers and contractors on Permit to Work (PTW) Systems, what they are, when they are required, the essentials needed for such systems, and how roles can be harmonised with permit to work systems.
What is a Permit to Work System?
It can be described as a formal recorded process which is used to control any work that has been identified as potentially hazardous. This also involves the communication between various departments, management, and the team tasked to carry out the work.
Essential features of permit to work systems include the following:
- The clear identification of who may authorise certain work and who will be responsible for specifying necessary precautions to be taken.
- The training as well as instruction in the issue, use, and the closure of permits.
- The monitoring and auditing of the process to ensure that it works as intended.
- The clear identification of the types of work which can be considered hazardous, and
- The clear and standardised identification of tasks along with risk assessments, permitted task duration, and supplemental or simultaneous activities along with the relevant control measures to be put in place.
‘Permit’ refers to either paper or an electronic certificate or form which is used as a part of the overall system of work. The Permit to work system specifically aims to ensure that proper consideration is given to certain tasks’ risks or simultaneous activities on site.
Regardless of whether it is electronic or in paper form, the permit must be a detailed document authorising certain people to carry out specific work at a specific site at a certain time. It also sets out the main precautions which must be taken to complete the work safely.
Both the objectives and the functions of such a system include:
- Ensuring that there is proper authorisation of the designated work.
- Ensuring that those carrying out the work clearly know the exact identity, nature, and the extent of the work and the hazards which are involved.
- Specify the precautions which must be taken.
- Ensure that the person in direct charge of the area and/or machinery and equipment is aware of the hazardous work being done.
- Providing a system of continuous control along with a record showing that the nature of the work along with the precautions have been inspected by an appropriate person.
- Providing for the suitable display of the permits.
- Providing a procedure for times when work must be suspended.
- Provide for control of work activities which may interact or affect one or the other.
- Provide a formal handover for use should a permit be issued for a period longer than one shift.
- Provide a formal hand-back procedure.
- Provide a process for change.
When are permit to work systems required?
Such a system must be considered when work is to be carried out and it may adversely affect the health and/or safety of employees, plant, or the environment. However, a permit to work system cannot be applied to all activities, as experience has shown that their effectiveness will be weakened as result of this.
Permit to work systems are considered most appropriate to the following:
- Non-production work such as maintenance, repairs, inspections, testing, alteration, construction, and others.
- Non-routine operations.
- Work where two or more individuals or groups must coordinate activities to complete work safely.
- Work where there is a transfer of tasks and responsibilities from one group to another.
At times, there may be a need for additional permits to work, such as the case with the following activities:
- Work of any type where heat is either used or generated, such as with welding, flame cutting, grinding, and other related tasks.
- Work where sparks may be generated or where any other sources of ignition are involved.
- Work that may involve breaking containment of a flammable, toxic, or any other dangerous substance and/or a pressure system.
- Work to be conducted on high voltage electrical equipment, or any work on other electrical equipment which may pose a threat to safety.
- Entry into and work within tanks and any other confined spaces.
- Well intervention.
- Pressure testing, and numerous other activities.
What are the essentials of permit to work systems?
Copies of the permit to work must clearly be displayed in the following areas:
- At the site where the work is being conducted or in a recognised location close to the site.
- Either in the central or main control or permit coordination room, with additional copies displayed in any local control rooms.
- Kept with the issuing authority.
When must work be suspended?
- When there is a general alarm.
- For operational reasons.
- While waiting for spares.
- If there is a change to the nature or the scope of work for which the permit was issue.
- When and where there is conflict with another scope of work.
It is imperative that suspended permits be kept on the recording system. There must be specifications of the condition in which the work site has been left along with consequences for other activities.
Instead of suspending the permit, in some cases it may be cancelled, with the suspended work being treated as a new task when it is restarted. This may be the best solution if the suspended work does not have a time limit and the site can be left in a safe condition.
It is crucial to ensure that one activity for which a permit to work has been issue does not pose a threat or create danger for another, regardless of whether the other task requires a permit to work.
Those who are tasked with issuing the permit must be aware of any potential interaction between tasks. Subsequently, they must ensure that when the permit is prepared, the work to be done considers other activities which are planned, or already underway.
When work is being carried out on another shift, for instance, the work takes longer than expected, then there must be a shift handover procedure in place. This procedure must ensure that the shift coming in is aware of any outstanding work which is permit controlled, the status of such work, and the status of the plant and/or work area.
Work which still in progress must be left in a condition which can be reliable to, and understood by, the shift coming in.
The hand-back procedure must include answers to some of the following questions:
- Has the work been completed?
- Has the plant and/or equipment, or the workplace been returned to a safe condition?
- Has the person in control of operational activities acknowledged, on the permit, that the plant, equipment, or workplace has been returned to the control of other staff?
Permit authorisation and supervision
The permit to work system can only be considered effective if permits are both coordinated and controlled by an issuing, or any other, responsible authority, and there is adequate supervision. There must also be adequate monitoring of the system to ensure that the procedures are being followed.
This can include site visits, interim checks, and other forms. Where the potential of harm is considered high, the permit must be seen by a second person before it is issued.
The duty holder must ensure that the permit to work system is properly resourced. Those who issue permits must have enough time to check the site conditions to ensure that the system is effectively implemented.
How can roles be harmonised within permit to work systems?
There are a few roles which can commonly be found in the day-to-day permit to work systems. The titles given to such people can vary greatly and, in some permit, to work systems, some roles can be fulfilled by the same person.
For this reason, the roles and titles must be clearly defined to ensure that there is no confusion.
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