Permit to Work is a systematic process used to authorize controlled work in nonstandard, potentially hazardous conditions. If you’ve ever hired a contractor to do work in your home or business, you should be familiar with the concept. The process includes risk assessment, establishment of safety protocol, communication and oversight to minimize Environment, Health, Safety & Sustainability risks.

Industrial work sites are full of hazards—the spray of sparks from welding, corrosive chemicals, energized electrical conductors, confined spaces, loose valve fittings, the list goes on and on. And sometimes “little” incidents can turn into Major Accident Hazards if not properly addressed.

Each of these risk-related circumstances comes with critical risks to the health and safety of frontline workers, assets and the environment. That’s why Permit to Work systems are a key element of a business’ overarching Control of Work strategy. Permit to Work is a systematic process designed to identify, communicate, mitigate and control risk in hazardous areas, nonstandard situations and potentially hazardous conditions, such as shutdowns, to prevent accidents.

Permit to Work systems are essential to frontline worker safety. The process limits the impact of human error, ensures there are no surprise hazards on the job and helps coordinate risk across the entire job site—erecting barriers to prevent welding sparks flying near flammable chemicals, for example.

Key Elements of Permit to Work Systems

No matter the industry, a Permit to Work System should include processes to:

  • Determine hazardous areas
  • Determine types of work considered hazardous
  • Identify the scope of work and associated risks
  • Designate a person to authorize hazardous work
  • Designate work supervisors
  • Designate people to conduct the work safely
  • Ensure proper training and instruction
  • Communicate protocol to on-site or off-site workers daily
  • Determine permitted duration of hazardous tasks
  • Establish a protocol for Simultaneous Operations (SIMOPS)
  • Monitor and audit Permit to Work systems

According to Health and Safety Executive, an independent regulator based in the United Kingdom, Permit to Work Systems must also consider the human factor, objectives and management of the system, the skill level of the workforce, unconscious and conscious incompetence, and the types of work permits needed.

6 Most Common Types of Work Permits

There are six commonly used types of permits in the Permit to Work System:

  1. Hot Work Permit: The purpose of the Hot Work Permit is to ensure proper initiation, review, approval, and execution of hot work activity This type of permit is used for any work involving fire or sources of ignition. This may include welding, flame cutting and grinding.
  2. Cold Work Permit: The purpose of the Cold Work Permit is to control work activities that may not produce sufficient energy to ignite flammable atmospheres or combustible materials but could contribute to injury. This permit is used as a catchall category for miscellaneous hazardous work, like activities that involve chemical cleaning, solvents, corrosives, resins, painting, heavy lifting or scaffolding.
  3. Electrical Permit: This permit covers work involving contact with energized electrical conductors. This may include telecommunications equipment maintenance or installation of electrical conductors. Work may be focused on live electrical equipment or the use of unapproved electrical devices (e.g., computers, borescopes, and cellular phones) in a classified area.
  4. Confined Space Permit: This permit helps create controls for entry and investigation into confined spaces, such as trenches, tanks or vessels. Any work beyond entry and investigation typically requires a separate permit.
    The purpose of the Confined Space Entry (CSE) Permit is to ensure:

    • Proper preparation of confined spaces/vessels to be entered
    • Safe entry by personnel, including plans for rescue
    • Restoration of confined spaces
  1. Breaking Containment Permit: The purpose of the Breaking Containment Permit is to ensure proper planning and precautions during work activities where the potential release of hazardous liquids or gases may occur. Breaking containment is a hazardous activity in the Oil & Gas business, and fatal accidents continue to happen.
  2. Ground Disturbance Permit: The purpose of this permit is to ensure proper planning and design of excavation and trenching operations, including entry of personnel. This is used for digging, trenching and excavating soil or ground.

Key Takeaway

Permit to Work software plays an essential role in Control of Work software as a systematic tool to control risk and prevent accidents associated with non-routine, hazardous work activities. Many businesses are digitizing the Permit to Work process to improve permit tracking and compliance, which gives workers better insight into risks while enhancing efficiency across the organizations.

Further Resources on Permit to Work

Digitally Managing Your Process Safety Commitments

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Top 8 Criteria for Permit to Work

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Unlocking Productivity in Manufacturing Operations

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