8th December, 2020

The Purpose Of A Permit To Work System

Permits to work are often found in high-risk industries like construction, but what is their purpose? When and why would you use these documents? And what makes permits to work different from risk assessments and method statements? Let's look at how permits to work make high-risk tasks safer.

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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 authorise certain staff members to carry out high-risk work at a specific time and place, providing that the procedures detailed in the permit and any referenced documents are followed.

The purpose of a permit to work system is simply, to make high-risk tasks safer. In addition to a risk assessment and method statement, the permit to work is issued only to a particular person, at a specific time, authorising them to carry out the work under strict controls.

In construction, permits to work are likely to be required for activities such as work to electrical systems, hot works, excavations, certain lifting operations, work at height and confined space works.

A permit-to-work system is a formal recorded process used to control work which is identified as potentially hazardous. It is also a means of communication between site/installation management, plant supervisors and operators and those who carry out the hazardous work

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?

Give written permission to carry out a task

Where an activity requires a permit to work, the task cannot be started until a permit has been issued. The permit will give a specific person authorisation to do the work, under the necessary controls.

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.

Ensure every aspect of the work is planned

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.

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.

Make sure every aspect of the work is checked

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. Issues or failures in controls are more likely to get spotted because you have to tick off each safety check, and it's often checked by at least two people, the permit controller and the person completing the work.

Put risk assessments and method statements into action

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.

Communicate health and safety information

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.

Provide a procedure to ensure essential controls remain in place

The permit formalises the controls needed and clearly sets out the responsibility for supervision, and naming those operators involved. And it's not just about checking that it's safe to start the work, but also that it's safe to continue the work. For example, work in confined spaces or at height may need to be stopped if the weather changes.

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.

Provide a procedure to return the area to a safe state on completion of the work

Your permit to work will also check that it is safe to complete the work. 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 to return to normal use once the permit has been signed off and the area declared safe.

Give a means of communication

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.

Is a written record

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.

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.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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