Health & Safety Glossary

Permit to Work

Permit to Work systems are commonly used in the Health and Safety industry and are designed to mitigate the risks of safety in high-risk tasks. In the following article, we discuss what a Permit to Work system is, why it’s important, and how it helps mitigate risk in the workplace.

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What is Permit to Work?

Permit to Work is a documented management system that includes specific processes to request, record, review, and authorise tasks to be carried out by designated employees. An important component of Permit to Work systems is to reduce conflicts while assigning tasks as everything is recorded.

Workers are required to fill out the Permit to Work form, which is a signed statement that outlines safe conditions for carrying out the task and includes details of any arrangements made in case an emergency arises. They are commonly used for tasks such as:

  • Accessing confined spaces
  • Working near or on unguarded machinery 
  • Working in excavation sites near large machinery
  • Maintenance work involving asbestos
  • Any activity that’s deemed hazardous after a risk assessment
  • Working at heights without corner guards or edge protection
  • Hot work 

 

Why is a Permit to Work System Important?

The Permit to Work system documents risks that pose harm to the health and safety of workers, the assets, and the environment. The system complements the internal risk assessment process, allowing managers to identify specific tasks that require a Permit to Work, workers that can apply for a valid permit, and specific instructions about the nature of the job. 

The workflow involves managers issuing documented permission (either digitised or on paper) to qualified workers to perform non-trivial tasks that generally carry a higher risk. Once workers sign the form, they’re then authorised to perform the tasks. The system is important for several reasons, as stated below.

1. Improves Safety

Issuing permits to work for hazardous tasks ensures that workers are aware of the risks they carry and have the equipment required to complete the job safely. It protects employers from heavy fines and costs that may incur due to training mismanagement.

It also ensures that management is aware of when hazardous tasks are being performed, and arrangements for emergency situations have been made. 

Management only gives permits to work to qualified individuals with the right training, which reduces their liability. They often receive PPE equipment and instructions on specific threats or risks before they begin the task. As a result, the risk of injury reduces significantly. 

2. Greater Accountability

Since this is a documented process, all parties, including employees and contractors, are aware of their risks and responsibilities. In case something goes wrong, the document makes it easy for management to identify exactly who is responsible.

3. Improving Business Processes

Businesses can use the recorded information to formulate better safety procedures and mitigate safety risks by investing in better safety equipment and providing training to employees. 

 

The Key Processes and Elements of Permit to Work Systems

Permit to Work systems generally include processes and elements that cover the following:

  • Title of permit (hot, cold, electrical)
  • Identifying hazardous areas
  • Specifying the scope of work, nature of the job, its location, and any risks
  • Specifying whether the work is hazardous or not
  • Designating supervisors 
  • Assigning hazardous tasks to authorised individuals
  • Ensuring designated individuals have proper instruction and training
  • Specifying the duration for performing hazardous tasks
  • Regularly monitoring and auditing Permit to Work systems
  • Outlining protocol to frontline workers 
  • Steps to take in case of an incident
  • Outlining emergency arrangements
  • Signatures of workers involved in the task

The Health and Safety Executive recommends organizations to also consider additional aspects, such as the human factor, along with the overall skills of the workforce, and the main objectives of the system. 

 

Common Types of Permits Used in Permit to Work Systems

Different types of permits are used based on the nature of the job. There are six broadly used permits in the Permit to Work system:

1. Hot Permit

Hot Permits, also known as Hot Work Permits, are commonly used to authorize, review, and approve any kind of work that involves fire. Hot permits are generally issued for tasks that include a source of ignition, such as flame cutting or welding. 

2. Cold Permit

Cold Permits are broadly used for all other work activities that do not involve any fire sources, but can still be hazardous to workers. Common examples of activities for which a cold permit is required include the use of solvents or chemicals for cleaning or maintenance, resins, corrosive materials, installing scaffolding or any work that involves heavy physical labour.

3. Confined Space Permits

Such permits are required before workers perform tasks that require them to enter or investigate confined spaces. These include vessels, tanks, ducts, or even trenches. The permit outlines processes for preparing the confined space to be entered, plans for the worker’s safe entry, and any restorative work done on these spaces. 

4. Electrical Permits

Any work that requires employees or contractors to come in contact with active electrical conductors requires an electrical permit. For instance, maintenance teams that work on electrical or telecommunications equipment must get a permit before work begins. The permits include information about the area where work will be done, the staff involved, safety processes, and the supervisors overseeing the work.

5. Ground Disturbance Permits

Ground Disturbance Permits are issued to allow management and employees to plan and design effective trenching and excavation operations. The permit includes details regarding entry and exit sites, and the personnel involved. 

6. Breaking Containment Permits

These permits allow companies to define protocols for safe work procedures where there’s a risk of hazardous gases or liquids being released. They’re mostly used in oil and gas companies where breaking containment carries significant risks. 

There are other types of permits as well, such as those issued for working at heights. Employers must ensure that they understand their legal obligations, especially those outlined in the Work at Height Regulations 2005 for such permits. 

In some cases, another legal document can be used as well. For instance, an asbestos licence provides similar legal protection as a Permit to Work, but the process to apply is different (applicants must apply through the HSE).

 

Using Permit to Work Software to Manage Work Permits

When implementing a Permit to Work management system, it’s imperative that businesses use a Permit to Work software to streamline the management process and record necessary authorisations and approvals. EcoOnline’s Permit to Work solution helps businesses manage all processes and permit-related data for employees and contractors in one place. 

It offers greater transparency and control and includes a range of templates that management can use. Users can also create their own. With over 6,700 clients around the globe, EcoOnline’s software solutions are ideal for businesses that want to manage and record permit-related data to minimise exposure and improve safety culture. 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the duration of a Permit to Work?

The duration of a Permit to Work generally varies depending upon the nature of the job. For instance, a Hot Permit usually has a duration of 30 days, though it can be extended or reduced depending on the task.

Who can issue a Permit to Work?

A Permit to Work can only be issued by a competent and qualified individual, one who is not directly involved in performing the task. This is usually an authorised individual with the necessary training, certifications, and experience.