Permits to work will often be found in high-risk industries like construction, but what is their purpose and when would you use these documents?
A permit to work system is a formal documented system, used to control high-risk activities. They are usually issued by a manager or supervisor and allow a person or group of people to carry out a task, under strict controls.
Permits will authorise certain personnel to carry out high-risk work at a specific time, providing that the procedures detailed in the permit and referenced documentation are followed.
In construction, permits to work are likely to be required for activities such as work to electrical systems, hot works, excavations, certain lifting operations and work at height or confined space works.
Permits to work are essential to the safety of these high-risk activities, but can only achieve the safety aims if the procedure is followed and the permits are supported by other health and safety documentation, not contradicted.
So how do permits to work achieve their purpose of making high-risk activities safer?
The permit needs to be signed off by a manager or supervisor before work can begin, ensuring that certain checks are met and creating a restriction on the task rather than allowing it to be carried out by anyone at any time.
What needs to be done before and after the activity to allow it to be completed safely? Permits to work will usually include precautions before, during and after the work, along with emergency and supervisory requirements.
Has the access equipment been inspected, is the load safe, have other services been isolated if they need to be? The permit will detail the checks needed and will be completed to confirm they have been completed satisfactorily in order to get signed off at each stage of the work.
The permit will prevent high-risk work commencing before a specific risk assessment, and where applicable, method statements have been carried out. Often, where the risks are high, a number of documents will need to be in place to make sure that all the necessary planning, assessing and preparation has been carried out.
The permit to work tells the operator what procedures and checks are in place, telling them and those around the work area what actions to take and hazards to be aware of. It gives them a clear set of instructions to work through at all stages of the activity and sets out what is (and isn't) permitted.
The permit formalises the controls needed and clearly sets out the responsibility for supervision, and naming those operators involved. The permit will often be displayed at the work area so that others not involved in the work are made aware of any exclusions or temporary restrictions.
Checks such as 1-hour fire checks for hot works, or electrical checks on completion of work, ensure that the work area is made safe on completion. The work area will only be handed over for normal use once the permit has been signed off and the area declared safe.
The permit will set in place the communications needed particularly in activities such as lifting operations, confined space work or lone working, this is vital for the safe completion of the task, or to activate emergency procedures. It will often include contact numbers or specific communication arrangements where required.
Because a permit to work is completed as the task is carried out, it acts as a written record of when the work was carried out, who by, and what was done. It is always signed off, by both the supervisor and the operative, so it is evidence of the work and checks carried out.
Ok, so we know what a permit to work sets out to achieve, but why would one be used over a risk assessment? Or a method statement?
First, it's important to understand that a risk assessment would still be required for the task or activity. In fact, it will often be detailed within the risk assessment that a permit to work will be needed to control the risks.
A method statement may also be used, to detail the work procedure that will be carried out.
The permit to work is an additional document that tightly controls when the work will be carried out, the people that will be involved, the permissions they have, and checks that need to be made.
For example, a method statement might detail that an electrical circuit needs to be isolated before work can begin. The permit to work will be completed to record when the circuit was isolated, who by, and at what time.
A permit to work is more of a written record of what is being done, and what has been done, rather than when compared to a risk assessment or method statement that details what will be done.
In order for the permit to work to achieve its aims and fulfil its purpose, it needs to cover all the legal requirements and essential points, control the risk sufficiently and clearly set out the procedures in place. Permits must only be issued by authorised and competent personnel.
If you need help creating a permit to work, check out these permit to work templates to get you started.