Case Study: Permit to Work System
Increased safety and lower costs are not mutually exclusive goals: A digital safety system case study
HSE/Q Manager, Mr. R.Pijtak of Centrica Energy:
“The ‘Permit Vision’ project has been a tremendous success. Operational management has an amazingly accurate overview of work being carried out and onsite personnel accepted the system as if it where their own.
Safety and especially awareness have increased tremendously due to the automated conflicting situation detection. Effectiveness and productivity have increased due to the simple fact that the process is made much more simple, faster and accurate while keeping good structure and control. Effective planning, isolation and risk management have even led to direct-cost reductions.”
The E&P and other hazardous process industries are investing a lot of time and resources in the maintaining and continuous improvement of safety on worksites. Safety improvements and cutting costs are often seen as mutually exclusive. This article will illustrate that safety and efficiency are not necessarily at odds with each other. We will look closely at hazardous worksite management and the challenges the industry faces herein. Problems, mistakes and erroneous methods currently in use will be reviewed, after which the solution will be presented by means of a real-life case study.
The case study will outline the safety benefits and the direct and indirect cost savings made by utilizing a digital safety system of work.
To minimize risks and maximize safety, a number of processes and systems have been implemented. These processes and systems are in place to ensure that work adheres to legislative safety measures. Examples are respectively, (paper) Permit-to-Work system, Job Safety Analyses, Task-Risk assessments and Isolation management.
These systems and associated processes are designed to ensure safety by making workers aware of the risks accompanying the task. However, these systems and processes contain a number of weaknesses.
Examples of such weaknesses are bureaucratic, administrative and communicative challenges, time consuming, hard to accurately plan activities, loss of rigor due to too much flexibility, and the lack of awareness-building. Another weakness of paper systems is the lack of integration with other safety systems like isolation management and risk assessment and the lack fast and clear overviews. All these examples challenge the safety of workers. They will, in turn, be discussed.
Examples of bureaucratic challenges posed be a paper-based safety system are form filling, copying, delay due to signatures, waiting for appropriate staff, etc. Although these steps are absolutely mandatory to ensure a safe system, they burden staff with time consuming duties. Tasks not directly contributing to the actual job make workers prone to skip steps and required measures.
Administrative challenges are illustrated by the handling of documents. Given the large amounts of permits being issued they increasingly consume physical room and time. Documents can get lost and simply archiving documents consumes valuable time. Retrieving documents can be troublesome if archiving is poor. A result of poor administration is that lessons learned from previous tasks disappear in the ‘heap of files’ increasing the risk of making the same mistakes over and over again.
Communicative challenges and lack of overview
Management and workers require an overview of tasks being performed onsite so permits and related documents tend to be displayed in a central location. This is necessary to work safely and effectively. The physical overview of all permits requires staff to visit the central room after a change is made or work gets suspended. This is not only time consuming but results in the potential deviation from rules. Even in the most modest-sized plant changes take time to get communicated but more importantly, there is no fast, accurate and clear overview of all work carried out. All documents must continually be checked for conflicting situations; especially during plant shutdowns this imposes a challenge.
As discussed above, permits are kept in a central location in order to keep track of changing - and potentially conflicting situations. Accurate planning of activities on any day becomes extremely time consuming, optimizing the planning even more so. Effective and accurate planning for future activities, like plant shutdowns, is virtually impossible, due to, for example: conflicting work leading to personnel waiting on outside contractors or vice versa.
Moreover, ineffective and inaccurate planning increases the likelihood for mistakes, resulting into a higher risk of accidents.
The more flexible a process, the more likely employees are to skip steps or take shortcuts. Rules imposed to see that employees follow the entire process of a paper based system are often too flexible. The goal of the process is not creating a permit but creating awareness and understanding of the risks involved in carrying out the work. Shortening this process in any way, compromises safety.
There are many separate systems associated with a safe system of work. Apart from the permit to work system, also isolation management software, risk assessment software and dangerous goods management are systems associated with an integrated safe system of work (ISSOW). Al these systems are loosely associated with each other via rules, processes and cross references. The rules, time spent and complexity of this process, resulting in even more paperwork, are again more often seen as permission seeking exercises rather than awareness building ones.
There are many more issues surrounding the industry which influence the safety system of work: Compliance with (local) legislative requirements (European Union, OSHA or other depending on location), time pressure, aging assets (complex maintenance work), cost effectiveness, the industry becoming more and more complex, the use of outside contractors with no local installation knowledge and corporate reputation, to name but a few.
The subject of our Case study is Production. Centrica Production is a fast growing operator on the North Sea and is rapidly becoming one of the larger players on the North Sea.
Many employees in the E&P industry, and other process industries, are reluctant to move to digital systems. Workers feel that a new software system, in this case a digital permit to work system, will impose yet another burden on their already stretched work load. Quite naturally their belief is based on previous software experiences; the, hard to use, digital systems introduced over the years, have left their mark, so to speak.
This is what makes Centrica Production such an interesting case study. At Centrica, not only did personnel, similar to many other companies, have to work with ‘user unfriendly software systems’, Centrica personnel had to endure an ill designed Permit to Work software system.
Management at Centrica understands the benefits resulting from a well functioning safety system of work, but at the same time realizes that personnel working on site will have to accept the system for it to be a success. Introducing yet another digital Permit to Work system, after an initial failure, seemed like a challenge, to say the least. Centrica engaged eVision to (re) design a common workplace safety process and implement the digital Permit to Work software with all related systems.
About the new solution
Permit Vision, a web based Permit to Work system, was chosen by Centrica. Permit to Work, isolation management and risk assessment are all integrated into one system, creating greater operational effectiveness.
Problems and implementation goals
Especially due to previous failures the key to success were the frontline operational people. The usability of the system was of utmost importance.
Centrica was facing a number of problems with their permit to work system. No clear overview of running activities and little communication. It became increasingly hard to manage and coordinate multiple, simultaneous work activities. As a result, there were many conflicting permits, leading to increased risk and workers having to wait to perform their jobs.
Planning and coordinating for future work on even the smaller installations was virtually impossible, again resulting in even more conflicting situations and reduced productivity.
Another problem Centrica faced were workers complaining about the amount of time spent on creating, checking, signing and finding permits. Not only from a cost savings perspective this should change, but more importantly, this was leading to a lack of focus and awareness. Instead of building risk awareness the process was viewed as a permission seeking exercise.
“A good permit to work system prevents incidents by ensuring that risk involved in any work are clearly understood and managed” PtW group UKCS
Although Centrica used the paper based NOGEPA standard for their permit to work, there remained some subtle differences in safety policies and processes between the different installations.
eVision’s permit to work specialist worked alongside Centrica’s frontline operational people to determine the exact processes and differences therein while working together with senior management, Centrica’s safety policies and risk assessments where reviewed.
The complete software system was configured to meet all Centrica’s requirements; capturing local installation knowledge combined with existing best practices giving the system a tailor-made feel. The permit to work system has the power of an off the shelf product, with the flexibility of an in-house design.
One of the major strong points, of all eVision’s software systems, is the focus on usability. Permit Vision is designed with the end user in mind, making the system easy to use, resulting in user acceptance and success.
The system had an amazing company wide acceptance; even the oldest workers onsite, with hardly any previous computer experience, praise the system for its effectiveness and simplicity.
With Permit Vision site-workers have an efficient and effective tool guiding them in the process of building risk awareness. Permit Vision facilitates personnel to do the job safely and effectively, while management has clear and simple overviews of ongoing activities enabling them to measure and analyze performance effectively.
Besides simplifying planning Permit Vision automatically tracks permits so they do not collide. The planning and tracking resulted in more effective and efficient operations due to the fact there was no more need for re-planning, waiting personnel or unsafe situations caused by conflicting permits.
Permit Vision reduced risk for outside contractors with less knowledge of the installation, by capturing local installation knowledge and lessons learnt.
The relief from administrative burden, simple and clear overviews, improved communication, planning and awareness contributed significantly to overall site safety and operational effectiveness. The introduction of the permit to work system created a win-win situation, which yielded benefits in both safety improvement and cost reduction.