A common complaint that I hear when visiting sites, is that the administrative side of the Permit to Work (PTW) system wastes a huge amount of time. I can't really see how this is the case. The permit system should be designed to ensure that controls for potentially hazardous work are implemented and communicated to all affected parties. On average, the administrative time taken to fill out a PTW is less than five (5) minutes. If the longest part of this process is the time taken to fill out the PTW form, there are problems with the system.
Prior to a PTW being completed it is essential that:
- potentially hazardous work is identified, the task steps are planned, hazards are assessed and adequate controls established
- in environments where simultaneous activities are imminent, either from concurrent work or surrounding plant or process, conflicts are evaluated and managed
- when high risk work is involved, adequate controls must be verified and appropriate licencing or competency reviewed
The PTW form is a final check to ensure that all of these steps have been completed prior to authorising the work to proceed.
Where there are complaints, often the PTW process is used for access control and the focus on hazardous work can get lost as every single activity is managed with a PTW. Sometimes the permit system is copied from dissimilar industry and not even fit for purpose! Usually though, poor understanding and complacency is the issue.
Work environments change constantly resulting in a number of ways a hazardous situation can emerge. If you multiply the number hazardous tasks you complete, by the number of different conditions they are completed in, by the number of potential concurrent activities that might affect you, the combinations are almost endless. Most of the time hazardous tasks are completed in an uneventful way, so it is easy to start to assume that the pre-emptive reviews are not warranted. It only takes a minor change in one variable which could create an unsafe situation that results in an incident or accident.
Your PTW system should provide the confidence that hazardous work is adequately reviewed prior to you starting work. If not, the system may well be creating an environment where you think you are safe, but are really exposing yourselves to a potentially life changing hazardous combination.