What are the steps involved in work permits (PWT) and how can software improve them?

Andy Pritchard  |    Feb 14, 2022  |    4 min read

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TABLE of contents

    A Permit to Work (PTW) system requires project managers to identify potential hazards and think through how they will be mitigated before the project is initiated. For this process to be successful, it requires the input from multiple stakeholders including subject matter experts, shift manager and project owners.

    Let’s examine each step and see how software can help improve them.

    PWT Steps and how software can improve them.

    PWT Systems involve Program Management and Admin before the process can start. Once the system is set up, Permit Owners use the system to apply for a work permit, which is approved and then the work will commence. Let's look at each step in detail.

    STEP 1:

    Program Management & Administration

    The first step that happens even before a PTW process can occur is a program manager needs to create the program. Usually the safety manager, the PTW program manager is responsible for creating the PTW system that allows for the efficient and accurate data to be collected to ensure an efficient process and that regulatory requirements are being met. 

    PTW program managers are also responsible for overseeing training and instruction and ensuring issuing and approving stakeholders are certified and competent.

    How software can help?

    PWT systems can be very complex with multiple data capture, training and regulatory requirements to manage. Paper/spreadsheet-based require unnecessary and arduous administration to manage. PTW software provides a number of benefits that will reduce costs, save time and enhance efficiency, including:

    • Training Management - build and assign training materials and track completion. Automate recurrent training so recertifications are not missed. 
    • Workflow Management - Automate approvals workflows so stakeholders are notified when action is required in real-time. 
    • Form Builder - Updates to the form occur instantly, instead of manually printing new forms.
    • Automated Reporting - Set up data to be automatically added to reports, update graphs and KPI charts, in real-time. 

    STEP 2:

    Work Permit Application

    In this step the permit applicant issues a work permit application and accepts the responsibility for the execution of the project. Depending on the type of work, the owner may issue a variety of PWT applications, such as hot works and confined space. The PWT application requires the owner to demonstrate an understanding of:

    • Identify all potential hazards and how they are controlled
    • Emergency situations that are likely to occur and associated first aid, SOPs and evacuation procedures

    Common Challenges

    People can have poor writing skills and not complete forms. Errors and omitted data can  require a lot of back and forth between staff, supervisors and administrators. Worse still, errors can result in poor data, missed issues and problems with regulatory compliance.

    How software can help?

    The most obvious advantage of digitized solutions is that they can contain rules and functionality that reduces the chance of errors creating miscommunications and increasing the risk of injury. Software can include feature that ensure the appropriate information is captured every time, including:

    • Required fields
    • Dropdown menus
    • Conditional logic
    • Automated date/time/location stamps
    • On-demand video instructions
    • And so on …

    STEP 3:

    Work Permit Approvals

    Once completed, the PTW application is passed on first to the issuing authority for approval and then to the permit approver. The issuing authority is usually a subject matter expert and provides feedback on the specifics of the work permit. For example, if the PWT was “electrical”, the issuing authority would be certified and competent in electrical regulations and have the ability to provide additional information to the applicant, or simply approve the PWT.

    The Permit Issuing Authority is responsible for:

    1. Confirmation that hazards have been identified and assessed with agreed to precautions
    2. Ensure supporting PTW, certificates, checklists, JSAs, drawings, etc are attached to the PTW application
    3. Confirm there are not conflicting issues and the job site is safe to proceed
    4. Authorizes the PTW 

    Once the PTW has been authorized, it still requires approval when the project is set to commence by the Permit Approver. This is usually a site or shift manager who can provide information relating to the current situation.

    The Permit Approver is responsible for:

    1. Reviewing the PTW and understanding the work to be completed
    2. Confirming potential hazards have been addressed
    3. Verify the job area is safe to commence
    4. Approves the PTW at the time of execution

    Common Challenges

    Paper PTW forms are physical things that can only be in one place at one time. There can be situations where changes are made after an approver has already reviewed or work commences during a time which increases risks. Paper forms need to be transported to stakeholders for approval, which can take unnecessary time, especially for organizations operating in the field, where control centers are hours away from where the work is being executed. This process can cause unnecessary delays and increase project costs substantially.

    Also, manual data inputting is time consuming and usually requires administrative time to digitize the data into a spreadsheet or other programs for reporting purposes.

    How software can help?

    Software can include features such as automated notifications and alerts that make the approvers aware of revisions. They can also access real-time updates on the project status and communicate directly with project managers in real-time. 

    The mundane task of administration can be outsourced to software, which frees up time to do the real work, instead of administrative “paper pushing”. Digital forms travel through the internet in real-time, which reduces travel time. It can also change formats to make it easier for stakeholders to review, provide feedback and/or approve. Digital data can also automatically be added to reports.

    STEP 4:

    Executing the Work

    Now we get into executing the project, which involves the Permit Holder, who is usually the “Owner”, but may not be in some cases, and the staff involved in the work. The Permit Holder is responsible for understanding the hazards and controls identified in the permit, using the appropriate PPE, understanding emergency protocols, executing appropriate lockout tagouts (LOTO) and providing the toolbox talk to the staff members. 

    Each staff member involved in the work needs to be briefed on risks and controls and appropriate safety procedures. They need to use the appropriate PPE and, when in doubt, stop and consult the permit holder. 

    Common Challenges

    “Paperwork” can be perceived as “arduous” and a “necessary evil” that is in the way of getting the work done. This attitude causes project owners to rush through the process, which allows for potential risks to not be identified.

    How software can help?

    Software can be more approachable and helpful to users, which provides a more engaging experience and helps them be successful. Software also makes the process of filling out paperwork more efficient and enjoyable. As a result, staff are more likely to spend more time with the process and get it right.

    Work Permits

    • Digitize PTW Form Templates
    • Guide staff through the process with on-demand instructions
    • Automate approvals workflows including eSignatures
    • Ensure projects are executed correctly and safely
    • Real-time KPI reporting
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