What Is A Permit To Work System And Why Is It Important?

What Exactly Is A PTW System?

Picture this: You’re at a construction site, and there are various tasks taking place simultaneously. Some workers are welding, others are operating cranes, and some are engaged in electrical work. Amidst this bustling environment, a Permit to Work (PTW) system is there to ensure that everything runs smoothly, minimising the risks associated with these activities. The construction business is a great example simply because typically many hazardous activities are happening simultaneously and in close proximity, but PTW is central to all types of industry.

In simple terms, a PTW system is a formalised procedure that authorises and controls potentially hazardous work activities. It involves obtaining permission, assessing risks, and implementing necessary precautions before carrying out specific tasks. It acts as a safety net, providing a structured framework to mitigate risks and protect workers.

When Is a Permit To Work Needed?

Permits to work are required for any task where the risk of injury or damage to people or property is significant. The decision as to whether a permit to work is required can only be made by a competent person with the required authority, so the criteria for decision-making will be determined by the person making the decision. Although certain jobs (as detailed below) will normally require a permit it’s also important to note that every task is likely to have a unique set of circumstances affecting its risk profile so a permit only applies to a specific task performed at a specific time.

Types of Permit

Hot Work

Any work involving high temperatures (where there is a risk of fire as a result of heat generated) – typically welding, grinding or abrasion etc.

Confined Space

Any work where there is a risk of injury or asphyxiation due to the restricted space available. This could include work in mine shafts, sewers, boiler maintenance etc.

Working at Heights

Any situation where there is a risk of injury due to falling, or from dropped objects.

Electrical Work

Any task where there is a risk of electrocution or fire due to e.g. incorrect isolation of electrical supply, incorrect use of equipment etc.

Why Is A PTW System Important?

Safety First: Permit To Work systems put safety first and foremost. Organisations can guarantee that personnel are properly trained, aware of potential risks, and equipped with the essential safety measures by establishing a comprehensive permit application procedure. This should lead to a reduction in accidents and injuries because the PTW system creates a structure which allows the core safety-critical elements of an activity to be considered and signed off before execution.

Risk Assessment: PTW systems provide a methodical approach to identifying and assessing risks associated with specific tasks. This allows for a full study of potential hazards and the implementation of preventive actions. Organisations that anticipate risks can take the appropriate precautions to limit their impact.  Hazards relating to the planned tasks will be identified and a risk assessment will be performed to determine the likelihood and severity of any injury to personnel or damage to property. The combination of likelihood and severity is used to determine what control measures need to be put in place to mitigate risk.

Generally the two processes work hand-in-hand – a Permit To Work will usually include a  Risk Assessment but a risk assessment may also raise actions which require a PTW to be created – so it’s helpful if both PTW and Risk systems are integrated. Some PTW systems include risk assessment as an attached file generated by a separate system, while others include risk assessment as a module which can be dynamically accessed during permit creation – this is likely to provide the most flexibility since once work starts on a permit activity it is possible that changes to the assessment will need to be made in light of new issues which are encountered.

Task Coordination: In workplaces with multiple concurrent operations, a PTW system acts as an excellent coordination tool. Many teams and individuals use it as a centralised communication and collaboration platform. In the past a number of incidents have involved SIMOPS (simultaneous operations).

When two or more operations are happening  in the same area at the same time, there is a risk that they will interfere with one another, introducing new risks or exacerbating existing ones.

Having access to accurate and dynamic information about what activities are taking place on a site should allow accurate planning around hazardous activities, with a corresponding improvement in safety. Some permit systems use a simple ‘permit board’ to display details of all activities, often using cards. Electronic PTW systems can use more sophisticated layout maps, accurate representations of the work site with permits indicated at each work location so that good decisions can be made when planning activities that may affect existing jobs.

How Does A PTW System Operate?

The operation of a PTW system involves several key steps. Initially, the job that requires a permit is identified, usually by the operations or maintenance team. Once identified, a detailed risk assessment is conducted to understand the potential hazards associated with the job. This assessment helps in defining the necessary control measures that need to be implemented to mitigate the risks.

After the risks are assessed and control measures are identified, a permit is issued. This permit outlines the work to be done, the hazards involved, the necessary safety precautions, and the specific conditions under which the work can proceed. It also specifies the qualifications required of the personnel performing the work, ensuring that only competent individuals undertake tasks that could pose a risk.

The permit is then reviewed and approved by a responsible authority, often a supervisor or safety officer, who verifies that all safety measures are in place. During the work, compliance with the permit conditions is continuously monitored. Upon completion of the job, the work area is inspected to ensure that it is safe and that all equipment and materials have been properly secured. Finally, the permit is closed out, signifying that the work has been completed safely and in accordance with the specified conditions.

In essence, the PTW system serves as a formal process that bridges the gap between hazard identification and risk control, ensuring that all safety considerations are addressed before, during, and after the execution of hazardous work.

Paper-based vs Electronic PTW

Although Electronic permit-to-work systems (EPTW) are becoming increasingly popular, many companies still rely on a paper-based system. This relies on paper permit forms being manually completed and signed off.

Although paper-based PTW systems may appear to be cheap and convenient to implement there are some significant issues which should be considered before choosing to either stick with paper or adopt an electronic system:

Ensuring The Right Information Is Recorded

If a permit involves a number of activities – e.g. confined spaces, work at height etc, appropriate questions must be addressed to ensure that the appropriate safety measures are in place. However, in many cases a permit will focus on a subset of these activities – a paper permit form must however contain all possible activities, resulting in a large and difficult to complete and maintain form.  Compare this with an electronic system where permit questions can dynamically change based on simple yes/no answers e.g. if working at height is selected then a set of questions related to working at height is displayed.

Processing Time

Often permits have to be reviewed and approved in a different location (a permit office) to where the work will take place. This means that a paper copy must be moved to the permit office and then back to the worksite before work can start, incurring delays, especially if a single permit approver is dealing with a large number of requests. Compare this with an electronic system which allows instant approval and notification no matter how far away the permit office is from the worksite. There is also the very real risk of loss or damage to the permit form, especially since they are usually being used in hazardous environments. An electronic permit cannot be lost or damaged once it has been created.

Sharing Information

If multiple people need to see the permit they either need to be in the same place or the permit must be copied. For this to be a consistently accurate record any changes made to the permit (e.g. changes to any associated risk assessments) must also be duplicated, creating an administrative overhead which may well be bypassed to allow the job to continue. Electronic permits are immediately available to all authorised personnel and updates appear immediately – an electronic system will also usually contain a built-in audit trail so that all changes can be clearly tracked.

Permit Boards

A permit board contains information about all permits in force on the work site. It is essential that this information is accurate and relevant – i.e. all updates are clearly shown along with a precise location.  Again, we’re dealing with the challenges of keeping multiple copies of permit information updated. Electronic systems provide a single ‘source of truth’ and have the added flexibility of being able to present permit information on a layout diagram, accurately showing all permits in force at a particular location along with their status.


Paper permits have to be physically stored in an accessible location. Apart from incurring a physical cost for the space occupied, this also creates an administrative overhead when permits are required for reference. An electronic system benefits form the effectively unlimited and instantly accessible storage available.

Cost Per Permit

Physically creating and handling a paper permit costs money – every time it is handed to someone for signature, review or reference a small handling cost is incurred. Storage of permits although a small cost, is still a cost which can become significant over time. Admittedly these costs are unlikely to be effectively tracked but it is clear that paper is definitely not a zero-cost option.

Implementing A PTW System

The implementation of a Permit to Work (PTW) system is a critical component in managing workplace safety, particularly in industries where hazardous tasks are commonplace. This system is designed to ensure that high-risk work is conducted under controlled and safe conditions, thereby minimising the likelihood of accidents and injuries. Implementing a PTW system involves several key phases: planning, development, execution, and monitoring, each of which requires careful consideration and adherence to best practices.

Planning Phase

The initial phase in implementing a PTW system involves comprehensive planning. This stage is crucial for identifying the scope of work that will require permits, the types of permits needed, and the specific hazards associated with each task. Organisations must conduct thorough risk assessments to understand the potential dangers and develop strategies to mitigate these risks. This phase also involves setting clear objectives for the PTW system, defining roles and responsibilities, and ensuring that the necessary resources are available for the system’s successful deployment.

Development Phase

Following the planning phase, the next step is to develop the PTW system. This involves creating the documentation and procedures that will govern the system. Key components include the permit forms themselves, which must be designed to capture all relevant information about the work, including the task description, hazard identification, risk mitigation measures, and emergency procedures. Additionally, this phase involves developing training programs for all personnel involved in the PTW process, ensuring that they understand how to properly issue, receive, and work under permits.

Execution Phase

With the PTW system developed, the focus shifts to execution. This involves the practical application of the system in the workplace. The process starts with the submission of a permit request by the individual or team wishing to undertake a particular task. The permit issuer, typically a supervisor or safety officer, reviews the request, assesses the associated risks, and determines the necessary control measures. Once satisfied, the issuer approves the permit, allowing the work to commence under specified conditions. This phase is critical for ensuring that all safety protocols are followed and that work is conducted within the parameters set by the permit.

Monitoring and Continuous Improvement

The final phase in the implementation of a PTW system is monitoring and continuous improvement. This involves regular audits and reviews of the system to ensure its effectiveness and to identify any areas for improvement. Feedback from users of the system, both workers and management, is invaluable for understanding how the PTW process can be refined. Additionally, analysing incidents and near-misses, even when no injury occurs, provides insights into potential weaknesses in the system and opportunities for enhancing safety measures.

PTW Challenges and Solutions

Implementing a PTW system is not without challenges. One of the primary obstacles is ensuring compliance and adherence to the system by all employees. This can be addressed through comprehensive training, clear communication of the importance of the system, and consistent enforcement of PTW procedures. Another challenge is the potential for the system to become overly bureaucratic, which can hinder its effectiveness. To mitigate this, organisations should strive for a balance between thoroughness and practicality, ensuring that the PTW system enhances safety without unnecessarily impeding work processes.

In conclusion, the successful implementation of a PTW system requires meticulous planning, development, execution, and ongoing monitoring. By addressing the challenges and continuously seeking to improve the system, organisations can significantly enhance workplace safety, particularly in environments where hazardous tasks are performed.

The Pisys Electronic Permit to Work system is a cloud-based PTW system for creating and managing Permits to Work across any type of business or work site.

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