7 Reasons Paper Permitting Is the Worst

Author: Justin Fox
Category: Enterprise Maintenance and Reliability

For a long time, paper permitting was a given. It was the only option out there. And having some sort of permitting solution was better than having no solution at all. Giving credit where credit is due, for many decades, paper permits saved lives and prevented accidents. But just like the “computers” of the 1970s can’t compete with today’s tablets and mobile phones, paper permitting, too, has been left behind.

Still stuck with a paper permitting system? Do the decision-makers at your company understand just how bad paper permitting is?

Make the case for the change to an electronic permit to work system. With paper processes, you can expect:

1. Increased Risk

Paper permitting processes rely on hit-or-miss manual updates and – too often – the knowledge, training, and memory of individuals. The system designed to control work in potentially hazardous areas/conditions breaks down.

Similarly, paper permitting makes it difficult to implement recent learnings or best practices. Consider a finding on a prior risk evaluation for a similar job; without effective information transfer and updated documentation, only the employees involved will be aware of the necessary changes.

Bottom line: errors or gaps in documentation and failure to put proper controls in place puts your people and critical assets at risk.

2. Conflicts with Hazards and Isolations

Creating isolation lists from scratch also increase your risk factor. These are not always reviewed or approved for use regularly, and cross-referencing other permits and isolation lists can be tough to do – whether because it’s difficult to find the documents, a lack of time, or poor penmanship making the documentation illegible.

Likewise, paper processes can also lead to a lack of visibility and unsuccessful conflict management. For example, a technician may believe everything is approved and ready for some hot work to be done, but upon arrival at the job site, may find that someone else has already begun a job that released flammable gas; now the hot work cannot proceed. This lack of visibility prevent conflict management from being successful – and can lead to wasted time or dangerous work conditions.

3. Dangerous Add-Ons

Piling on, there is also the issue of using one permit for multiple tasks. For example, tasks may be added to a permit after the initial paperwork was prepared and the same risk assessment applied to each. This leads to significant gaps in both the permits and the risk assessments involving a piece of work. It’s a short cut that can be incredibly costly in terms of your team’s safety and the continued performance of your equipment/systems.

An electronic permit to work system negates these issues with pre-populated hazards and controls, task histories, updates to integrate new learning, consistent risk assessments, and cross-referencing of other hazards present in the area. You don’t have to rely on the knowledge and know-how that may be stored in an individual’s head or on charts and lists that may or may not be accurate.

Reducing the frequency and severity of incidents is priority Number One.

4. Wasted Time

Filling out forms manually is tedious, repetitive, labor-intensive. Just how much time does it take? Our data shows that a permit takes an average of about 140 [SM1] [EG2] [SM3] minutes to prepare and activate, including the time it takes to physically move the paper permit from Point A to Point B. (Plus, the time it takes to decipher illegible handwriting!)

Workers are sidelined while they wait on the paperwork, significantly reducing wrench time and impeding operational efficiency.

Delays are especially pronounced during shutdowns. Returning equipment to service requires a significant number of permits and isolations; with paper, you have to check them manually to guard against permit breaches and conflicts. On a more basic level, you often have to figure out who has what permit and what state your facility is in. Checking even a few permits can cause delays that cost thousands in lost productivity.

Again, it goes back to safety as well: the risk of a breach or isolation conflict is much higher during shutdowns.

An electronic permit to work system allows you to manage this process in a streamlined, efficient manner – so you’re up and moving as much as two hours faster (depending on the number of permits) following a shutdown. And if you opt for a mobile ePTW, your technicians will be able to make real-time updates whether they’re online or offline, directly from the field.

5. Compliance Problems

The regulatory environment is increasingly stringent; you have an obligation to comply with tighter and tighter regulations or risk astronomical fines. It is common for single person incidents to result in a penalty of US$500,000[EG4] .

Paper systems do not create a solid or reliable audit trail, and it is often difficult to prove that tasks were completed in the proper sequence and with the required controls. Manual audits are also time-intensive, and many companies complete just a fraction of the checks that they should, nor are records as detailed or accessible as they should be.

Electronic permit to work systems ensure that audits become a manageable routine and that you have the documentation you need if there is an incident or investigation.

6. Culture Problems

With paper, not every action is recorded accurately – or at all. This can lead to a box-ticking mentality, where permits are prepared and approved without the necessary review or cross-referencing for conflicts. When you implement an electronic system, every activity is automatically recorded. This, of course, gives you the audit trail you need, but it also fosters a culture of accountability.

7. Higher Costs

Every reason we’ve discussed so far can boil down to cost. Whether it’s the cost of lost wrench time, the cost of delays after shutdowns, the cost of noncompliance, the cost of damaged reputation, or, worst case scenario, the cost of injury or fatality, paper permitting can lead to significant financial risk. Your bottom line depends on accurate, streamlined processes.

Move into the Future with Prometheus ePAS

Paper had its day. It was the beginning in terms of putting systems in place to document work activities and ensure a higher level of safety. But it cannot keep pace with the escalating demands 21st century businesses face. The landscape has grown more complex; the potential for conflicts, injury, incidents, and penalties is greater.

ePAS by Prometheus Group is designed for today’s challenges – and to ensure that your business is positioned to move into the future. With robust electronic permit to work solutions, you can easily create, track, approve, cross-reference, review, audit, and update permits to reduce lost time, mitigate the risk of incident and injury, achieve compliance goals, and more.

There is a better way. It’s ePAS.

Learn more in our latest ePAS whitepaper, "The Calculated Benefits of Electronic PTW Systems."

Author: Justin Fox

Functional Consulting Manager at Prometheus Group

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