Risk managers in the world of hazardous operations are acutely aware of the need to implement stringent work controls: documented measures that go far beyond safe work protocols for more routine jobs.
Indeed, those Risk officials are usually on the front lines of complying with aggressive statutes, regulations that force their companies to take formalized steps towards mitigating work health and safety risks associated with non-routine work. What, then, are some of the control of work steps Risk teams take?
Well, an important measure to control hazardous work, permit to work is a concrete process stakeholders take to control the inherent risks of numerous high-risk operations; operations requiring development of a permit to work system include the following:
- Work within confined spaces
- Work at height
- Work involving the use of hazardous/dangerous substances
- Work where heat may be used or generated
- Work which may generate sparks or other sources of ignition
- Work which may involve breaking containment of a flammable, toxic, or other dangerous substance and/or pressure system
- Work on high voltage electrical equipment
- Well work
- Pressure testing
- Any operation requiring additional precautions or personal protective equipment
The actual permit to work system is just a set of documented processes that ensure dangerous work is done safely. The figurative permit merely licenses the development and implementation of continuous risk control measures (through the duration of the job). The resulting system serves to erect approved contours around the hazardous work undertaken: defining the exact work to be done, when, where, and for how long it will be done, as well as specific precautions to address associated hazards and risks.
Sounds simple enough. But the permit to work framework couldn’t be more important for high-risk work. Indeed, the system offers crucial, lifesaving benefits. For one, permit to work establishes a critical communication chain between the most important hazardous work stakeholders, thereby guaranteeing that the right people have duly considered risk and are taking suitable precautions.
But aren’t these stakeholders already in conversation? Turns out, the principal parties involved in hazardous work don’t often coordinate on risk mitigation efforts with the same level of detailed focus as that demanded by the permit to work process. For instance, focused permit to work discussion yield the following practices:
- Clear listing of the work to be done on the site, as well as the personnel who will be undertaking the work and the equipment they will be using
- Types of work considered hazardous, as well as associated tasks, risk assessments, and permitted task durations
- Identification of who can authorize permit-to-work jobs as well as clear delimitation of limits to their authority
- Identification of who is responsible for specifying necessary precautions
- Authorization for the work to commence
- Duration of permit validity, as well as listing of sanctioned methods to extend permit validity
- All-personnel training and instruction in the issue, use, and closure of permits
- Concise listing of actions to be taken in the case of an emergency
- Comprehensive (covering all aspects of permit-to-work procedure) monitoring and auditing measures to ensure that the system works as intended
What’s more, a non-trivial number of post mortems of high-risk sector incidents cite a lack of thorough multi-party coordination as contributory, specifically a breakdown in coordination of hazardous activities among stakeholders.
Of course, the permit to work system alone won’t make a dangerous job safe for crews in high-risk sectors. Still, it’s an important step within the larger control of work framework. To learn more on how to bring permit to work best practices to your organization, download our guide.
Health and Safety Executive: Guidance on permit-to-work systems: A guide for the petroleum, chemical and allied industries.
Michael Booth and John D. butler: A new approach to permit to work systems offshore
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