How Going Digital Makes Permitting Safer and Easier

How Going Digital Makes Permitting Safer and Easier

How Going Digital Makes Permitting Safer and Easier

It’s the dawn of a new decade, and the people here at Prometheus Group are excited about what the future will bring. In this time of resolutions and new beginnings, we thought it would be helpful to start the new year off on the right foot by examining how business has transformed over the past decade and how it’ll continue to change.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend in moving maintenance processes from traditional pen-and-paper methods to modern digital systems. There are many reasons why this change is taking place. Chief among these being that storing and interacting with information digitally leads to a more efficient and safer permitting process. 

In this two-part series on electronic Permit to Work systems (ePTW), we want to help you understand the major drawbacks of the traditional system and how switching to an integrated permitting and isolations solution can help eliminate those weaknesses.

In this first part, we will highlight the inefficiencies of the manual permitting method. In our follow up piece, we will cover the benefits of an electronic system.

Why Adopt an Electronic Permitting Solution?

Before throwing tradition out the window and transitioning to an electronic Permit to Work system, it is important to understand why an increasing number of maintenance professionals are dissatisfied with traditional paper methods. 

Efficiency and safety are the name of the game when working in high-stakes industrial environments, and often a paper permitting process cannot meet the modern demands of worker safety and process efficiency. Although we’ll go more in-depth later in this article, here is a brief overview of the drawbacks associated with paper PTW processes.

Paper processes:

  1. Can’t enforce protocol and leave more room for human error.
  1. Are highly reliant on the knowledge and memory of individual workers.
  1. Increase the risk of unsafe isolations and sub-par risk assessment.
  1. Can lead workers to spend too much time decoding ineligible handwriting, cutting down on their time on tools (also known as wrench time).
  1. Are difficult to manage during emergencies and shutdowns.
  1. Increase the risk of being out of compliance with strict OSHA and other health and safety regulations.

 Now, let’s dig into these drawbacks in detail.

Paper Permit to Work Systems Allow Greater Risk of Error

Planning is a critical step in managing PTW and related activities. Poorly planned permits can lead to unsafe isolations, placing the plant and worker at risk. Maintenance managers often require employees to follow a series of pre-determined steps when completing the permitting process to reduce error.

This is key to meeting regulations and providing a safe work environment for employees. However, paper PTW systems provide no real means of enforcing these protocols, allowing human error to creep into the permitting process. Failure by employees to follow policy can result in plant downtime, damage to equipment, and even injury or death. 

Additionally, manual permitting processes are typically limited to the knowledge and care of personnel preparing the permit. The risk of dangerous human error is increased if an employee forgets certain details about a risk assessment. Maintenance workers often juggle multiple permits and isolations, increasing the risk that certain details will be forgotten. 

Completing Permits by Hand Delays High Priority Maintenance and Operation Processes

Manual PTW processes are often highly inefficient and difficult to manage in a time-constrained environment, especially during planned shutdowns and breakdowns. Paper permitting requires a substantial amount of time and repetitive filling out of forms by hand, eating up time that could be spent attending to more critical tasks. A few ways the shortcomings of manual PTW processes can cause problems for a plant include:

  • Important maintenance workers can spend valuable time filling out dozens of permits. This can slow down plant production due to equipment remaining unusable for unplanned, longer periods of time.
  • Shutdowns, Turnarounds, and Outages (STOs) can result in significant backlogs of permits resulting in wasted time as technicians line up for permits when they could be on the tools.
  • Difficulty with understanding ineligible handwriting, creating confusion among employees. 
  • Often, the status of other permits (particularly those with shared isolations) are not readily available, requiring additional checks (and time) to ensure breaches do not occur. 

A lot of effort can be wasted simply finding out what state the plant is in and who holds certain permits. During a shutdown or outage, these kinds of delays can cause issues in returning the plant to service because of the large number of permits that must be surrendered before plant restart. For a plant, this can equate to wasted time, money, resources, and energy.

Regulations Require a More Reliable Permitting Solution

Occupational Health & Safety (OSHA) regulations are now placing a greater emphasis on compliance, verification of processes, and training [regulators in many jurisdictions are imposing significant penalties for businesses where incidents occur because of poor processes]. This can include inadequate procedures or training, poor quality control, and lack of records and auditing. Auditing manual PTW processes is limited to reviewing paper records, which cannot prove what order activities were completed in or if they were done in accordance with regulations.These limitations can result in cutting corners and processes when under pressure. Plants are starting to require a more detailed, trackable audit trail of records that can be easily searched and reviewed on-demand.

Electronic Permit to Work Software Is the Future of Efficiency

The limitations of paper PTW systems is not new but has become more exaggerated with modern demands of increased efficiency, greater emphasis on safety, and stricter government regulations. The disconnect between policies and what’s happening on the ground leaves workers unprotected and responsible parties exposed. Reduced speed and transparency result in less informed decision making. Even where the procedures are strictly followed, a paper-based process still lacks the reporting and auditing capabilities needed in modern business. This is one of the many reasons why more asset-intensive industries are moving toward electronic Permit to Work systems. 

ePTWs provide greater clarity, better access to records, and help create greater efficiency. In the second article of this series, we’ll look at how ePTW solutions function in practice.

Stay tuned (and Happy New Year)!

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