Need help with your Permit to Work System?

We can Help: Audit, Review, Improve, or write your Permit to Work System

Reliance on a poor Permit To Work system can lead to serious injury. Contact us and let us help you keep your workers safe.

We can assist you to audit, review, improve, or write your Permit to Work (PTW) System.

What is a Permit to Work?

A Permit to Work is a formal system of controls, using documentation and supervision, that is intended to safeguard the health and safety of workers (and others) involved in particularly hazardous activities. The main purpose of a permit-to-work system is to ensure that proper and specific consideration is given to all the risks of a particular work activity and that all of the risks are assessed and controlled before work starts.

The Permit to Work System may be also be used to control similar activities being carried out by employees rather than by contractors.

Permit to Work

A robust Permit to Work System is an important safety management feature for many companies. While this can be clear and obvious with respect to engineering operations (such as in the chemical industry or oil industry), there are many other, less apparent instances, where a suitable Permit to Work System can be effective.

Organisations, including those involved with the management of premises, are increasingly relying on contractors for day-to-day activities (such as security, cleaning and catering) as well as for the provision of more specialist assistance (equipment and machinery servicing, window cleaning, etc.). With this use of contractors comes a requirement to manage the use of contractors in a safe and professional manner. In certain instances, a part of that control of contractors may involve the use of a Permit to Work System.

The permit to work system does not replace the need for suitable and sufficient risk assessments or for method statements from contractors but is intended to work in conjunction with these documents.

The types of work that may be subject to a Permit to Work System include:

  • Plant maintenance and repair
  • Lifft maintenance work
  • Work at height:
    • high level light changing (especially in common areas)
    • roof work
    • window cleaning
    • façade cleaning
    • canopy cleaning
  • Work in areas where there may be vehicle movement
  • Work involving access to plant rooms
  • Confined space entry
  • Electrical work
  • Work involving excavations
  • …and more

Permit to work - safety agreement

Permit to Work Failure - Tank Explosion leads to £100,000 fine for an oil company

This case study looks at the fine for an oil company as a result of poor control of contractors, poor control of the permit the work system, and failures in the assessment of risks. When contractors working for ESL Fuels Ltd cut into a sealed pipe using a grinder, there was an explosion. The pipe in question was attached to a tank and part of a waste oil recovery process at ESL fuels Ltd’s North Blend Tank Farm. Flammable gases within the pipe ignited, resulting in an explosion within the tank and the tank lid and vent pipe being partially detached and projected over a raised walkway. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) discovered that the company was having difficulty with the waste oil recovery process, which was foaming out of the vessel and filling its bund. The company’s tests were inadequate and failed to identify the cause of the problem, which was generating flammable carbon monoxide gas. A decision was taken to connect the vessel by pipework to an emergency relief dump tank to prevent a potential catastrophic overpressure in the tank but the safety implications of this modification and its design were not risk assessed. The HSE also found systemic failings with the company’s management of contractors and an inadequate Permit to Work system. ESL Fuels Ltd appeared at Liverpool Crown Court and pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) and Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and has been fined £100,000, with costs of £17,000. Speaking after the hearing HSE inspector Matthew Lea said, "Even though nobody was injured this incident could have been prevented if the problems with the process and the subsequent design modification had been properly investigated, risk assessed and dealt with, and if the work of the contractors had been adequately controlled. HSE has brought this prosecution because failures took place that could have resulted in death or serious injury and we believe every person should be healthy and safe at work."

A photograph shows someone filling in a work permit application form

Is your Permit to Work System fit for purpose?

If any of the following seems daunting or you would like advice, call us on 01509 550023 to seek assistance.

Authorised Person and Responsible Person

The organisation should appoint at least one Authorised Person to control and issue the Permit to Work documentation.

The Authorised Person:

  1. needs to be sufficiently senior so as to be able to enforce the permit to work system, in accordance with the organisation’s policy
  2. should be aware of (or should be able to foresee) the hazards and potential risks involved in the activity to be carried out under the permit
  3. should issue the permit to work to a Responsible Person.

This Responsible Person should either be the person in charge of the activity to be carried out or should be the person who is actually going to do the work. The permit must be issued to a named person and not to a position or group. This is essential to pinpoint the responsibility of the control.

The important elements of a permit to work system

Different activities and different circumstances will require different elements to be incorporated into the permit to work, but there are several important elements that should be a part of most permit-to-work systems. These include:

  • all those involved in the activity must be aware of the hazards involved with the work to be carried out
  • the Responsible Person must have appropriate technical knowledge of all the processes involved in the operation under the permit
  • the work to be carried out is properly and fully detailed and understood by those involved in carrying out the work
  • the area or location where the activity is to be carried out is identified clearly and segregated or isolated in some appropriate way (if appropriate)
  • the person who requests the permit must be in charge of the area where the work is to be carried out and the whole operation
  • appropriate signage should be displayed in and around the area
  • the responsible person must be competent and must sign the permit to state that they are satisfied that any necessary precautions have been completed (such as isolation or blanking off of services, etc) and that it is safe to enter the work area and commence work
  • all workers should sign the appropriate section of the permit to indicate that they have read and understood all the instructions and information regarding the process
  • any (gas) monitoring or sampling required before, during and after the operation must be specified and results recorded on the permit
  • after completion of the work
    • the responsible person must sign off the permit accordingly and state that the place or plant is left in a safe state to return to operations
    • the permit should then be returned to the authorised person
    • the authorised person should withdraw (sign off) the permit after checking that the work has been completed and the plant/place is safe to return to its normal operations

Typical information that should be recorded on the Permit to Work paperwork

There is no definitive correct format for a permit to work. The permit, however, should define:

  • the exact location of the work
  • the day, date and duration of the permit
  • the activity or activities to be carried out
  • who is to supervise (if applicable) and who is to carry out the work
  • the types of tools and PPE, as applicable, required for the activity
  • any special or specified precautions that may be required, such as
    • the number and types of fire extinguisher for a hot work permit
    • the use of non-sparking tools for work in potentially explosive atmospheres,
    • specific isolations that may be required (valves, electrical supplies, gas, etc.)
    • the lifeline for confined space entry,