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Human factors: Permit to work systems

Why are permit to work systems important?

Instructions or procedures are adequate for most work activities, but some require extra care.  A ‘permit to work’ is a more formal system stating exactly what work is to be done and when, and which parts are safe.  A responsible person should assess the work and check safety at each stage. The people doing the job sign the permit to show that they understand the risks and precautions necessary.

Permits are effectively a means of communication between site management, plant supervisors and operators, and those who carry out the work. Examples of high-risk jobs where a written ‘permit to work’ procedure may need to be used include hot work such as welding, vessel entry, cutting into pipework carrying hazardous substances, and work that requires electrical or mechanical isolation.  It is also a means of coordinating different work activities to avoid conflicts.

It should be emphasised, however, that a ‘permit to work’ is not a replacement for robust risk assessment, but can help bring the risk assessment 'to life', at the sharp end, where it matters.

There are many human factors aspects of permit-to-work systems, including competence, procedures, and communications.  Wider guidance on permit to work systems can be found in HSG250.

Key principles in permit to work systems

More information on permit to work systems