Learn about what a permit to work is, permit-to-work systems, which projects and organizations require one, the application process, some of the speedbumps you might face, and how you can streamline the process.
Published 23 May 2023
| By Gary Bonnett, Leon Altomonte
Permits to work are special authorization documentation that ensures adequate risk has been accessed for the process and a level of control has been put in place to reduce the severity, likelihood, and potential of an incident occurring. These could be regulatory requirements, company policies, or general best practices depending on the area of the world you operate in. These are part of a systematic approach to managing risk through authority and authorization.
A permit to work (PTW) system is a process to keep employees safe during hazardous and nonstandard operations. It involves assessing the risks, establishing a proper safety protocol based on the risks, and proper communication throughout the entire process. The PTW system is designed to mitigate environmental, health, sustainability, and safety risks in certain operations.
The permit-to-work system starts with identifying risks and hazardous areas and practices within the organization. It also includes identifying the work’s scope and the risks that come with the work. These systems also involve appointing the people who are authorized to handle hazardous tasks and people in charge of keeping the processes as safe as possible.
The permit-to-work system is a part of the entire process. While it starts with risk and hazard identification, it also involves training employees, regular briefing, establishing protocols, and monitoring the PTW system to ensure that it’s doing its job of keeping the workers as safe as possible.
When working in an industrial setting, there are risks that you can’t avoid. A PTW system is a necessary component of any business’ control of work system and is designed to handle and mitigate the risks that employees face on a daily basis. These risks can be sparks from welding practices, working in confined spaces, loose valve fittings, and more. In these settings, there is no way to eliminate these risks, but there are ways to control them and keep employees safe.
Some managers and organizations take these risks very seriously. Even if they may seem like tiny risks on the surface level, they can potentially become more major and put employees in dangerous situations.
The permit-to-work system can apply to many industries. However, they are most commonly used in industries that deal with hazardous processes, such as construction and manufacturing. These industries handle a bigger risk than other organizations as they put employees in situations where they can potentially get hurt.
This is why PTW systems involve a lot of documentation, assessment, training, and adjustments. The PTW system involves letting employees know when, how, and why the work needs to be done. This is a formal system designed to give employees clear tasks and ways to handle the tasks in the safest possible manner.
So, if an organization deals with certain risks and hazards in its operations, it will benefit greatly from a permit-to-work system. This is a key part of the organization’s work strategy control, hazard identification, and risk assessment.
In a permit-to-work system, employees are given permits to be able to accomplish specific tasks and authorization to conduct various processes. These are some of the most common work permits issued by organizations that implement a PTW system.
Hot work permits are used to authorize individuals to work with fire and anything that ignites a fire. Getting this work permit involves going through the proper training and briefing on safety practices. This is to ensure that all hot work in an organization is done safely, with employees knowledgeable on the proper protocols and best practices to follow.
Download a free hot work permit template to keep your workers safe from fire hazards.
This category of work permit is a blanket permit used for various processes that don’t involve fire or ignition systems. So, this is commonly used in chemical cleanups, working with the scaffolding, doing heavy lifting, and other similar tasks.
Get started with this free cold work permit template for your workplace.
Entering confined spaces such as tanks, vessels, and canals to conduct work can be very dangerous. That said, this is only used to authorize entry and investigation into the spaces. To actually conduct work in a confined space, additional permits are necessary.
Download this free template to ensure safety when working in confined spaces.
Working with electrical components has an inherent risk that you cannot avoid. An electrical work permit is there to ensure that everyone working with electronics in an organization is doing so in a safe manner while alleviating and mitigating the major risks.
Working at heights is common in the construction industry. Due to its nature, it’s considered one of the biggest causes of occupational injuries, accidents, and even fatalities globally. Ensuring there’s an available working at heights permit to work helps you, your workers, and contractors to consider and document any hazards related to their work. Ultimately, doing this aims to reduce the possibility of accidents happening and improve worker health and safety.
Serving as a key element of an organization’s overall LOTO program, a lockout tagout permit to work helps ensure equipment inspections, maintenance, and operations are conducted and accomplished safely. Since these activities can be complex, risky, and dangerous, having a PTW system in place is crucial in minimizing worker injuries caused by accidental operations of equipment and other assets.
Getting a permit to work involves employees going through the appropriate training and education to ensure that they understand the risks associated with their job and know the measures in place to mitigate the risk. Before getting a work permit for tasks, employees need to show that they are capable of handling them safely and effectively. The manager also needs to determine if the work is absolutely necessary because if it isn’t, then it’s best to avoid the risk altogether.
This is why permit-to-work systems require good documentation and reporting systems. That way, the safety team can stay on top of all the work and check if everyone is working according to company safety standards and practices.
Eliminate manual tasks and streamline your operations.
There’s a high potential for a PTW system to be completely a back office activity for the sake of convenience. And while it may be convenient, it’s important to ensure that the people on top of the PTW system are employees who actually do these jobs and understand all the risks associated with them.
Additionally, it’s vital for the team to strike the right balance between safety and efficiency. Some redundant safety practices may end up affecting the organization’s efficiency and performance. It’s also crucial that safety practices don’t harm the company’s efficiency and productivity, as that will defeat the purpose of having a PTW system in the first place.
On top of that, implementing a PTW system is hard on its own. With these systems, it’s important for all employees to understand how the system works, why it’s important, and how to follow it. That way, the organization knows that there are no unnecessary risks in any process, and if there are risks, proper controls are in place to mitigate these risks.
Work permits under a PTW system may be denied if:
A proper PTW system should have the right criteria to explain when tasks are necessary and what measures the employee has to take to ensure their safety.
Employees can get their work permits for certain activities from the appropriate office within the organization. PTW is an internal system, so authorization for certain tasks will usually come from within the company.
Work permits are necessary for hazardous tasks in the workplace to ensure that the employees have the proper training and know how to handle the task. That way, when they perform the task, they do so safely and eliminate the critical risks. You also need it as part of a control of work system.
Yes, permits to work usually come from within the organization. That’s why it’s important to do a proper risk assessment, so that all the risks with certain processes are properly identified, and the right controls are in place to improve worker safety.
Digitization is the most sustainable solution for establishing a PTW system and ensuring its transparency, accountability, and thoroughness. Digital processes are easy to audit; and through digital notifications, organizations can establish a practical way of informing the right people at the right time to gain valuable insights into the work being accomplished. Having more transparency will allow the organization to collaborate better while driving more effective and efficient processes.
One way for organizations to make their PTW system simple, efficient, and successful is through tools such as SafetyCulture. SafetyCulture is a tool that can work for a ton of workplace processes but can offer a lot of features to help organizations implement a proper PTW system.
SafetyCulture is designed by modern companies, which is why it comes with a large set of features designed to help organizations bring their systems and processes into the future. Some of the features SafetyCulture offer to help with PTW systems include:
Gary is recognized for his extraordinary ability to help leaders translate the safety performance into actionable strategies and success. With an MBA from Texas A&M University, Gary has built upon his education with over 20 years of Life Safety experience with proven leadership in organizational transformation. He is an advocate for safety operations with a talent for turning some-times processes into full-time cultural change in a company.
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