What is a permit to work?
A permit to work is an agreement between the issuer, who is often a site supervisor, and the operator who will complete the task(s). It describes the task requirements and the conditions for its safe completion.
In issuing a permit to work, the issuer is accepting at least some liability for the safety of the operator who will carry out the task and the safety of others.
A permit to work should only be issued after a hazard analysis of the related task(s) and the subsequent creation or customisation of a safe work procedure.
A thorough job safety analysis should always precede issue of a permit to work. The laws throughout Australia require that hazards be identified for each new or modified task, and appropriate controls developed to minimise the risk of injury.
A safe work procedure should be cited in every permit to work.
The permit to work should specify:
- a description of task(s) being authorised and, if applicable, tasks not authorised
- who is permitted to work
- the time period (eg. one shift)
- what safe work procedure(s) will be used in the task and any additional controls not specified in the procedure
- the conditions of work (eg. monitoring and notification requirements)
- who is responsible for safeguards (eg. isolation and emergency response)
- what needs to be done at the end of the job (eg. plant hand-back, reactivation of smoke alarms)
- (if the task is done by external contractors) who is in control of the task – to help clarify liability
- signatures of both the issuer and operator.
When should they be used?
At least for all high-risk tasks and for non-routine medium-risk tasks done by external contractors or employees. If there is a reportable injury, the permit to work, along with the job safety analysis and the safe work procedure, will be crucial documents in any investigation and subsequent defence in court, so the permit to work needs to be completed with this in mind. Verbal permits to work are ineffective and carry little weight in legal proceedings.
Who should issue them?
HSE personnel should not issue permits to work. They should be issued by personnel with process accountabilities as the “owner” of the work. They should not be issued without an on-the-ground inspection and consultation with the operator.
It is recommended that your organisation define the types of tasks, carried out by employees and contractors, that require a permit to work.