Permit to work systems within the workplace

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The Occupation Health and Safety Act makes it obligatory for Employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without Risk to employees. It is obligatory for an employer to provide and maintain plants and systems and procedures of work that are safe and without risk to workers health and safety.

A Permit to work system is a formal written procedure used to control certain types of work that have high Risks. This permit certifies employees and external contractors that they are protected when they do hazardous work. It is a document which specifies how the work should be done and the steps that need to be followed to ensure the work is done correctly. Permit-to-work forms an essential part of health and Safety Management Systems.

It ensures that all foreseeable risks have been considered and that the required control measures to complete the job safely have been implemented before the job can proceed. Employers must not assume that their Health and Safety Management system is effective because you have not had a serious injury as yet.

The following work listed is deemed to be high risk and can be controlled using a permit to work system:

  • Work in confined or enclosed spaces.

  • Work in elevated positions, for example, ladders and scaffolding, Roof or ceiling work.

  • Work where there’s a danger of the earth collapsing, for instance, excavation work or work in trenches.

  • Welding and flame cutting work. This is usually called hot work ( any work that can be a fire hazard);and

  • Work in hazardous areas. This includes flammable storage and hazardous chemical substance storage.

Specific elements are required for an effective permit to work system which will ensure that the necessary control measures have been implemented and that we can safely proceed with the job at hand. The essential elements of a permit to work system are;

  • Permit title – Hot work / Confined space entry / working at heights etc.

  • Permit number – making reference to any other relevant permits or isolation certificates.

  • Job location – Identifying the exact location of the planned job.

  • Plant identification – Identifying the plant which will be worked on. This will assist in ensuring that the correct plant has been isolated of all energy sources.

  • Description of the work to be done – A breakdown of the full scope of work.

  • Hazard identification – Identification of all hazards associated with the work to be performed. This information is obtained for the task risk assessment for the job.

  • Precautions necessary – This includes all precautionary measures required to control hazards which have been identified. Including persons involved e.g. persons responsible for isolation of plant will need to sign and confirm that plant has been isolated.

  • Protective equipment – Identifying the required personal protective equipment for the job.

  • Authorization – Signature by the permit issuer confirming that the required precautions have been taken. Information on the duration of the permit must be provided.

  • Acceptance – Signatures of all workers involved in the task confirming an understanding of the work to be done, hazards involved and the required precautions as well and confirmation that the content of the permit has been discussed.

  • Extension/ Shift handover – Signatures confirming that plant remains safe to be worked upon and new workers have been made fully aware of the hazards and precautions involved.

  • Handback – Signed by the permit receiver confirming that the required work has been complete as well as the permit issuer confirming that plant is ready for testing and recommissioning.

  • Cancellation – Confirming work tested and plant recommissioned.

The following needs to be considered when developing the permit in addition to the above – Human factors, who will be responsible for ensuring that the permit-to-work system is correctly and effectively implemented and enforced with employees and contractors. It is the responsibility of the employer to provide instructions, training and supervision on the permit to work system. The Employer should also know which operator or employee will need to be trained on the permits.

The following incident that is mentioned below happened due to a failure in the implementation of the permit to work system. The incident took place at a Supermarket called Greencore, which manufactures cakes and dessert. A Contractor was called out to wire a motor above a machine, the Project manager provide the Contractor with a permit to work for working at heights. The permit to work that was given was for a 2 meter ladder when the height of the work to be performed was 3 meters. The permit failed as the Risks involved at that height was not covered, the Contractor was not trained to work at such heights and as a result, the control measures required for the ladder to be stable were not implemented. The outcome of this is the Contractor fell from height and broke multiple bones.

The above mentioned incident highlights the importance of on-going training and awareness sessions so employees and contractors understand the importance and the process to follow for the permit to work system. Starting with the identification of high risk tasks and activities and permit to work system requirements in your workplace can be the difference between life and death of an employee or contractor and will be a step in the right direction in creating a safer working environment for all.

In LabourNet, we assist companies with Health & Safety management because we believe –

Everyone goes home Health & Safe …And that includes, employees, customers, and the general public.

For more information on Work Permits, please contact the LabourNet Helpdesk at

0861 LABNET (0861 522638).

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