Removing Operational Waste in Safety Processes:

A Guide to Operational Safety Excellence

Safety processes, such as Permit-to-Work (PTW) and Lockout/Tagout (LOTO), are not immune to operational waste.

In high-risk industries, such as manufacturing, construction, and energy, safety processes are crucial in protecting workers and preventing accidents. However, no plant management wants to achieve 100% safety and go bankrupt. Operational waste refers to any activity, practice, or resource that does not add value to the overall safety process, leading to inefficiencies, delays, and increased risk. And thus, increased costs.

In this article, we will continue to explore the various types of waste in safety processes and discuss strategies to remove them, ultimately achieving Operational Safety Excellence.

Waste Types in Safety Processes Overview

The concept of operational waste originated from Lean Manufacturing, a management philosophy, and methodology developed by Toyota in the mid-20th century. Lean Manufacturing aims to eliminate waste and increase efficiency in manufacturing processes. One of the central principles of Lean is the identification and reduction of various types of waste, often referred to as “Muda” in Japanese.

Over time, the concept of waste in Lean Manufacturing expanded beyond the realm of manufacturing and was applied to other industries and processes, including safety processes. Operational waste in safety processes refers to activities, practices, or resources that do not contribute value to the overall safety objectives and may lead to inefficiencies, delays, increased risk, and compromised safety.

  • Waiting: Delays caused by waiting for approvals, authorizations, or equipment availability.
  • Defects: Erroros, re-dos, misalignments that lead to production losses and avoidable risks.
  • Overproduction Waste: Excessive production of safety documentation or redundant safety checks.
  • Unnecessary movement: searching for tools, equipment, or information, movement of documents, personnel.
  • Overprocessing: getting too many non-value-adding authorizations and duplicated paperwork.
  • Inventory Waste: Excess inventory of safety supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Unused employees’ creativity: not using the expertise and enthusiasm of shopfloor people to improve safety processes.

These waste types contribute to inefficiencies and delays in safety processes, but by addressing them effectively, organizations can improve overall safety performance. We have reviewed them in detail in the following video series.

The Mindset Required to Remove Waste

Removing operational waste in safety processes requires more than just implementing strategies and methodologies. It requires a specific mindset within the organization, emphasizing a commitment to continuous improvement and a proactive approach to waste reduction. In this chapter, we will explore the key elements of the mindset necessary to effectively remove waste in safety processes.

Being Ready to Change

Embracing change is crucial when aiming to eliminate operational waste in safety processes. It requires a culture that is open to new ideas, willing to challenge the status quo, and receptive to feedback and suggestions from employees at all levels. Leadership plays a vital role in fostering this mindset, promoting a culture of innovation and improvement, and encouraging employees to participate in waste reduction initiatives actively.

Long-term vs. Short-term Vision

Removing operational waste is not a one-time effort; it requires a long-term vision. Organizations must prioritize sustainability and view waste reduction as an ongoing process rather than a short-term fix. While immediate gains may be achieved through specific initiatives, it is essential to maintain a broader perspective, continually seeking opportunities for waste elimination and striving for Operational Safety Excellence.

Lean is Not Just About Cost-Cutting

A common misconception is that lean practices and waste reduction initiatives are primarily about cost-cutting. While cost reduction can be a positive outcome, the primary focus of lean methodologies is on value creation, process improvement, and enhancing safety outcomes. The mindset required for waste removal should emphasize the pursuit of safety excellence and the well-being of employees, aligning with the organization’s mission and values.

Data-Driven Decisions

Data is a powerful tool for waste removal in safety processes. The mindset should emphasize the importance of data-driven decision-making, leveraging available data to identify waste, measure progress, and inform improvement efforts. Collecting and analyzing relevant safety metrics, incident data, and performance indicators will provide valuable insights and guide decision-making toward the most impactful waste reduction strategies.

By cultivating this mindset throughout the organization, safety processes can be continuously improved, waste can be reduced, and the path to Operational Safety Excellence can be achieved.

Removing Operational Waste: Methods and Tips

Various methods and principles can be applied to identify and eliminate waste effectively. The organization should choose methods that match its goals and available resources. Here are some proven methods and practical tips for removing operational waste in safety processes.

Gemba: The Place of Action

One of the fundamental methods for waste removal is the practice of Gemba, which means “the place of action” in Japanese. Gemba emphasizes the importance of going to the actual location where work is being done to observe and understand the processes firsthand. By engaging with frontline workers, managers can gain valuable insights into waste sources, identify non-value-added activities, and collaboratively find solutions to eliminate waste.

Practical Tip: Regularly schedule Gemba walks to actively observe safety processes, engage with workers, and encourage open communication to uncover waste and improvement opportunities.

Kaizen: Continuous Improvement

Kaizen, meaning “change for the better” in Japanese, is a methodology that focuses on continuous improvement. It involves empowering employees at all levels to contribute to waste reduction by identifying and implementing small, incremental changes. Kaizen promotes a culture of continuous learning, encourages problem-solving, and fosters employee engagement in the pursuit of waste elimination.

Practical Tip: Establish a formalized process for collecting and implementing employee suggestions for waste reduction. Regularly review and recognize successful Kaizen initiatives to sustain a culture of continuous improvement.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM)

Value Stream Mapping is a powerful tool for visualizing the flow of information, materials, and activities within a safety process. It helps identify waste, bottlenecks, and areas of improvement by mapping the current state and developing a future state VSM. By visualizing the entire process, organizations can prioritize waste reduction efforts and develop a roadmap for process optimization.

Practical Tip: Engage cross-functional teams to create collaborative value stream maps, ensuring a holistic perspective and encouraging diverse insights for waste identification and elimination.

5S Methodology: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain

The 5S methodology focuses on organizing and standardizing work areas to eliminate waste and improve efficiency. The five principles provide a systematic approach to workplace organization, leading to improved safety, reduced motion waste, and enhanced productivity.

Practical Tip: Implement regular audits and visual management techniques to sustain the 5S practices, ensuring a clean, organized, and efficient work environment.

Remember to foster a culture of continuous learning and embrace data-driven decision-making to drive effective waste reduction efforts. By actively addressing operational waste, organizations can enhance safety performance, mitigate risks, and strive for Operational Safety Excellence.

The Role of Digitalization in Removing Waste in Safety Processes

The integration of digital technologies can significantly contribute to waste reduction and enhance safety performance. Here are some key ways digitalization can support the removal of operational waste in safety processes:

  • Automation and Digitization: Manual processes, paperwork, and documentation can be time-consuming and prone to errors. By automating and digitizing safety processes, organizations can eliminate waste associated with manual data entry, document handling, and approval workflows. Digital platforms and software solutions can streamline PTW and LOTO processes, enabling real-time collaboration, electronic approvals, and improved traceability.
  • Data Analytics and Insights: Digitalization allows organizations to collect and analyze large volumes of safety data. By leveraging advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, patterns and trends can be identified, enabling proactive risk mitigation and waste reduction. Predictive analytics can help anticipate safety hazards, optimize resource allocation, and identify opportunities for process improvement.
  • Mobile Applications and Wearable Technology: Mobile applications and wearable devices offer real-time access to critical safety information, checklists, and procedures. This reduces the waste associated with manual information retrieval, improves communication, and ensures that workers have the right information at their fingertips. Wearable technology can also provide real-time monitoring of vital signs and environmental conditions, enhancing worker safety.
  • Integration and Interconnectivity: Digital systems can integrate various safety processes, allowing for seamless information flow and reducing waste associated with redundant data entry and communication gaps. Integration with other operational systems, such as maintenance and scheduling, ensures that safety considerations are incorporated into overall operational planning, further enhancing efficiency and waste reduction.
  • Visualization and Reporting: Digital platforms enable the creation of interactive dashboards and visualizations, providing a comprehensive overview of safety performance indicators. Real-time reporting and monitoring facilitate timely identification of waste and areas for improvement. Visual representations of data can also enhance communication and understanding among stakeholders, promoting a shared focus on waste reduction and safety excellence.

Moreover, digitalization enhances personnel, thus helping to eliminate the most precious waste – unused employees’ creativity. Read more about How Digitalization Makes People Think.


Removing operational waste in safety processes, such as permit to work and lockout/tagout, is essential for achieving Operational Safety Excellence. By understanding and addressing different types of waste, implementing lean principles, and leveraging digitalization, organizations can streamline safety processes, reduce inefficiencies, and enhance overall safety performance. The journey towards Operational Safety Excellence requires commitment, engagement, continuous improvement, and using digital tools to drive waste reduction and create a safety-first culture. By embracing these principles and methods, organizations can ensure the well-being of their workers, mitigate risks, and achieve operational excellence in safety.

If you want to learn more about how Unite-X can support you in your continuous improvement journey, contact us today.

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LoToTo: How to Organize a Highly Complex Process

Keeping track of the LOTOTO process and ensuring that each action is given the proper attention it deserves is a real challenge. In this article, we overview how to deal with the complexity of the LOTOTO (Log Out Tag Out Try Out) to achieve Operational Safety Excellence.

People vary in their ability to manage many small details. Some individuals have a natural talent for it and can stay organized and focused even in the midst of chaos, while others may struggle to keep track. But when it comes to risky processes, human errors are unacceptable.

LOTOTO procedure is as a system of checklists and actions that demands high attention to detail.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), approximately 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries occur yearly due to inadequate LOTOTO procedures.

That makes LOTOTO a process with extremely serious consequences and endless opportunities for human errors.

Complexity of LOTOTO

The LOTOTO is a process that consists of many small details that need to be managed properly to ensure the safety of workers. Isolating and de-energizing equipment, placing locks and tags on energy sources, and verifying that the equipment is safe to work on before maintenance or repair work can begin to require attention to detail and careful management.

Additionally, LOTOTO procedures often involve multiple stakeholders, such as operators, maintenance personnel, and supervisors, who must coordinate and communicate effectively to ensure the process is executed properly.

Surprisingly many plants still organize their LOTOTO process on paper, leveraging complex systems of Excel sheets, documents, semi-automated connections, printings, and handwriting.

Managing a process that consists of papers and handwritten notes often also involves oral agreements, inconsistencies, misunderstandings, and unknown factors on top.

To put it another way, keeping many small details in order is like trying to organize a room full of cats. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control, one cat jumps on the bookshelf, another knocks over a vase, and the rest start running in circles. It easily becomes overwhelming and can quickly turn into chaos, a never-ending cycle of energy-draining actions needed to keep everything in order.

Each person involved in the process may have a different understanding of the requirements, leading to errors and inconsistencies. Handwritten notes can be difficult to read or misplaced, leading to confusion and delays. Unknown factors can arise unexpectedly, making it challenging to plan.

Under these circumstances, LOTOTO is a process that is very hard to scale up, speed up or hand over.

Manage the chaos

So, how do you optimize LOTOTO to avoid the issues described above? We at Unite-X promote the approach that consists of the main areas:

  • Standardization: Streamlining processes to eliminate operational waste and minimize risks.
  • Verification: Proving that the equipment or process is safe by focusing on the “Try-out” part of LoToToTo.


Standardization is the best thing a plant or factory can do to support its operational safety goals. Through standard processes and procedures, you can minimize waste and maximize efficiency. It means you don’t have to start everything from scratch or compete with each other’s local templates like some notes written down somewhere.

With LoToToTo, standardization makes a complex process simple and manageable. It brings the value of LoToToTo into a process that everyone can follow.

The key benefits of standardization for LoToToTo are:

  • Making a complex process simple.
  • Ensuring everyone is on the same page.
  • Eliminating operational waste.

With a standard approach to managing things, people start a process with a question: “What is different this time?” instead of “What do I need to do?”, Read more about standardization in our previous article.

Standardization also opens new opportunities for global organizations that aim to spread out their safety culture across sites all over the globe.

Download Unite-LoToTo product brochure

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Sometimes in public discussions and professional slang, we hear that the process of LOTOTO is called LOTO instead of LOTOTO, where the last “TO” is left out. This is cannot be intentional, indeed the part with verifying is given less priority.  However, verification is a crucial ingredient of the optimal LOTOTO, last, but not least.

Without trying out your equipment and proving it is safe, you are not assuring your team members that they will not be hurt.

Even if you have the best staff and highly qualified employees, there is room for human error. And, if you think about it from the workers’ perspective, they just want to know: is this safe?

Try-out is an essential part of LoToToTo because it verifies and proves that the equipment is safe.

Example: Many plants work with steam, which can cause significant injury. In the LoToToTo process, you are turning off one steam pipe. But, because of human error or lack of standardization, the wrong one was closed. So, as a next step to ensure safety, you need to “try-out” the pipe and check to ensure it was done correctly. This will prove to the workers that there is no energy in the pipe that will hurt them.

Don’t just focus on lock-out, tag-out with your safety processes—Try-Out is such an important part of it because it proves safety. Doing this will not only ensure that there are no incidents, injuries, or deaths, but it inspires trust with your team members.

Implementing Effective LoToTo Processes

It’s important to note that standardization and verification in the LoToTo process are not vague ideas or solutions that don’t work in the “real world.” They are real areas of focus for plant managers.

Too often, people think the solution for operational safety excellence is to just hire better staff or to have higher standards. But there are a few issues with this idea:

  • There is a staffing shortage, so it’s hard to hire team members already.
  • It’s too simplistic. Even the best employees are prone to human error.
  • It doesn’t account for the challenges with LoToToTo (complexity, lack of standardization, etc.).

A better approach is to ask, “What went wrong today, and how can we fix it?”

This keeps people in the present instead of worrying about the past and the future. They can work with real problems and situations, find creative ways to resolve them and improve things for the future.

To implement a successful LoToToTo process, it’s also important to keep track of metrics such as how many standardized templates are being created (there should be one for each piece of active equipment) and how much waste or rejects there are.


High attention to detail, focus, and organization is usually mentally exhausting and creates stress and anxiety, especially when dealing with high-stakes projects or situations where mistakes can have serious consequences. At a time when there is a staffing shortage, it is crucial for leaders to think of ways to support teams best, make them feel valued, and not be overwhelmed with managing too many details.

Standardization and verification are critical to a successful LoToToTo process to strive for operational safety excellence.

Implementing a successful LoToToTo process means that you need to have the right tools. Unite-X is top-notch safety software to achieve operational safety excellence. It can help you streamline and standardize your processes, optimize operations and keep everyone safe.

If you want to learn more about how Unite-X can work with your company, contact us today.

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How does waiting in Permit-to-Work impact the plant’s safety?

And how to reduce waiting time to achieve Operational Safety Excellence?


Imagine this: you arrive in an unknown city in the middle of the night. You are exhausted after a long flight through a few time zones, and you need to get up early tomorrow for a long, busy day. You stand across from your hotel, one hand’s distance from you. But you need to cross the road, and the light is red. It is very late, and there is no single car around. What would you do?

Realizing that you are from the safety industry, you will probably say, “I’ll wait until the light is green and then cross.” But being fully honest with yourself, after such a hard day, do you really have encouragement to wait more?

This article will overview the impact of waiting time in the permit-to-work process from the people’s perspective. How does it impact people, why should shopfloor people be a part of the reducing waiting project, and how to empower them to do this?

Is waiting always bad?

Waiting in manufacturing is one of the seven wastes introduced by Taiichi Ohno, commonly used in modern Lean. Waiting in safety is a brutal reality, where performing a 5-minute job takes a few hours of safety preparations and is considered a regular practice.

We all know that waiting consumes a non-renewable resource, an important one: Time. But we often forget that waiting also consumes people’s willpower, just as limited as time.

Tiredness, hurry, overburdening, keeping deadlines, following compliance… By the end of the shift, these have already eaten quite a large portion of the average person working in manufacturing. So now also waiting. How tempting is it to violate rules when no one is watching? 

This mindset creates risky behaviors, frustration, complacency, or indifference, which can kill any team spirit and willingness to improve and innovate.

Such a huge impact on people reducing waiting time becomes emotional and thus cannot be resolved by simply directions from above.

Remember to mind human nature!

From the people’s well-being perspective, waiting is not always bad. Sometimes (especially during tiredness or stress), brief periods of inactivity act as microbreaks. This creates an internal dilemma for some people. On the one hand, they recognize that there is something inherently wrong with getting paid to stand around. On the other hand, they may work exceptionally hard between the waiting periods and need a quick breather. 

For example, waiting in line may give an individual a minute to chat with coworkers. Resolve that problem, and the social interaction goes away, making the job seem less satisfying for some.

What types of waiting in Permit-to-Work exist?

Waiting can be noticeable as when a person waits for all necessary approvals before starting a job preparation and performance. You might see a waiting queue by your permitting desk every morning or a contractor drinking coffee waiting for isolation. 

It can also be pretty subtle, as when a slow computer flashes the “spinner” while loading an enormously heavy Exclel sheet with checkboxes.

In Permit-to-Work, it is also often entirely hidden, as waiting time is often a component of cycle time. When one step is taken ONLY after the previous one is completed, those could be done in parallel. Initiating a LoTo plan for an isolation job together with initiating a permit could be an example. In a paper-based permit-to-work universe, these steps go after one another. 

Observing and capturing these cases could push forward the understanding of how much you really wait.

Some waiting time is expected, and some is not. If a maintenance person is required to wait for the machinery to cool down before being isolated, it is an expected waiting. If a maintenance person sometimes has to wait for a delayed part of isolation materials to arrive, that is unplanned waiting. Obviously, it is easy to manage (plan, schedule, analyze, etc.) the expected waiting. 

It is essential to observe your processes at the site (“Gemba”) to understand the types of waiting present in your Permit-to-Work to set up goals and build a relevant strategy for removing it. 

Why waiting occurs?

Waiting occurs for a variety of reasons. As we speak about the Permit-to-Work process, as a pillar of LSR, people often wait for signatures or authorizations, safety items, document delivery, or someone else to complete isolation tasks. You name it.

If you look from the process perspective, the reasons could also be quite variable:

  • Poor preparation
  • Poor prioritization
  • Unclear goals
  • Defects (re-dos, errors to be fixed, incomplete measures, etc.)
  • Unclear steps
  • Lack of education

But if you look from a larger scale, all the reasons for waiting time could be grouped in:

  1. Poor process design
  2. People are not engaged
  3. Lack of tools

We have overviewed these three aspects in the other article Three Root Problems of Permit-to-work Process.

What waiting costs you?

Coming back to the hotel story from the beginning. Wait time is not only costly for the labor time that is paid for and not utilized. 

  1. Waiting costs new risks, as it is harder for people to stay compliant after waiting too long.
  2. Waiting costs opportunities, as every idle minute means no task is being performed, and no improvement idea is introduced.

Thus waiting becomes a hurdle on the way toward Operational Safety Excellence, with zero incidents and balanced costs.

How to approach reducing waiting time?

The strategy you choose will depend on how you classify waiting time from the impact it has.

VA vs. NVA

It is vital to distinguish value-adding from non-value-adding time.

In our article for EHSToday, we have brought up the example of rebalancing waiting time towards adding more value. Briefly, the example shows that improvements lead to a minimum decrease in overall time consumed but increased time spent on preparations.

From the safety perspective, getting more time to think through necessary safety measures can increase safety and thus is value-adding. Read more here: When Lean Meets Safety, Sjoerd Nanninga for EHSToday

Normal vs. abnormal

Leave extra time within the process to handle the fluctuation while looking at the speeding up process steps. This means that the work is still finished on time when there is a problem. But when things go well, there is a lot of standing around.

This is very well explained  in the article about Waiting time on “Instead, take out the buffers from individual work areas. Rebalance the line at the lower cycles, and free up a person to act as a floater to go where the problems are. The benefit is that the time is consolidated in a way that it can be used. The floater can support the line but also work on projects without the fragmentation that an operator would have if trying to work on something for a few minutes each cycle.”

It is critical not to focus on just eliminating waiting time but on the general goal of improving the process.

Remember, you work with people!

Wait time occurs whenever a person is inactive while he or she could be doing productive work. Reducing wait time can have a negative emotional effect on team members. This is especially true if they work quickly when they are not waiting.

Do not focus specifically on reducing wait time. Instead, take a holistic approach to waste. Look for all the wastes that affect a process and create a new operation that minimizes all the different forms of waste.

How to reduce waiting in Permit-to-Work?

People on the shopfloor are those who experience waiting for the most. They stand in morning queues, walk back and forth for approvals, wait until the paper is printed, etc. But it is also they who see things happening wrong and can hugely impact them. 

At the same time, reducing wait time is a challenge for an individual. 

Automating processes requires management buy-in, support, and direction. Coordination is equally challenging as most people have some flexibility in their own jobs but may not have an impact on how others operate. And it is even more challenging to manage abnormal signals, especially when a job requires narrow expertise from a third party, which is unavailable at the plant and needs to be arranged. 

Thus, encouraging and engaging people and supporting and educating them in the removing waiting time journey is crucial.

For this reason leaders, instead of managing waiting time in permit-to-work on their own by introducing new policies and tools, it is more vital to help people to synchronize the teamwork better and teach them to handle intermittent cases.

This wait time reduction strategy does require three main things:

  1. Set up measurements: measure, set up KPI goals, re-measure and constantly monitor data.
  2. Improve the process: observe, overview, explore best practices, eliminate other waste types, standardize, design new flows, and implement.
  3. Create ownership: talk to people, engage, and co-design processes together.

Disclaimer: remember to give people the right tools!

Digital Permit-to-Work software helps to save an enormous amount of time by automating actions, running parallel streams, empowering people using templates, and running processes smoothly without delays.

Moreover, digital Permit-to-Work software is also an intelligent library of lessons learned both for storing internal and external knowledge, experience, and best practices. 


Removing waiting time is straightforward if you work with machinery. But if you work with people, it is a delicate, emotional process, where taking away waiting without other changes makes people’s jobs harder.

When working together on eliminating waiting, make sure that you focus on taking away frustrations and hurdles for better flow instead of just forcing people to rush. 

There are three core things you can do to eliminate waiting time: measure, observe and engage people. But don’t forget to give people the right digital tools to make the goal of Operational Safety Excellence achievable. 

Read more about Unite-Permit to Work here.

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Where do the most challenges of the Permit to Work process root from?

And why do we still often see issues with building and implementing an effective digital Permit to Work safety process?

At Unite-X, we always start with Kaizen. This is a session where everyone involved in the Permit to Work safety process is able to design the flow in the most efficient way. We do so because we believe that an improvement and simplification of the flow should always precede digitalization.

Together with the client’s team, we brainstorm problems and challenges, make decisions about necessary improvements, and draft roadmaps toward reaching them.

In our experience running over a few hundred sessions, we see root causalities that trigger all other challenges with permitting processes that were not necessarily seen by the management at the purchasing stage.

In this article, we provide an overview of the three main root problems with the digitalization of a Permit to Work safety process:

  • Operational Waste: The process is not efficient and full of operational waste
  • Lack of Ownership: People are not engaged and avoid taking ownership of the process
  • Missing Hazard Controls: The process is not 100% safe and missing important hazards and control measures

This could be a classical “chicken or egg” dilemma: Is the process inefficient because people do not own it, and thus errors and imperfections create unnecessary risks? Or vice versa — people avoid owning it because it will bring too much of a hassle to perform?

We put people first at Unite-X and truly believe in the power of joint creativity and engagement. Therefore, we focus on improving the Permit to Work process in a way that supports, engages, and guides people toward operational excellence.

Lack of Ownership

Permit to Work is obviously a crucial safety measure. Neglect and lack of awareness might cause losses, injuries, and sometimes even somebody’s life.

People working in a plant know these things. So why do we still have issues with compliance and following procedures as described? The lack of ownership over the Permit to Work safety process can lead to disastrous results, so it’s important to understand why people aren’t taking part in it.

Behaviors triggered by an inefficient process

When people are overburdened or overwhelmed, they are not in the best emotional state to make decisions. They might neglect issues, forget things, and skip important steps.

If you are constantly rushing, you lose track of what is happening around you and only focus on the most urgent things. In this frame of mind, you forget about improvements and future developments.

These behaviors are clearly triggered by inefficient processes and a lack of tools, which can lead to injuries and incidents.


Why do people avoid owning a Permit to Work process?

In addition to the feeling of overwhelm and overburdened by inefficient processes, there are other reasons why people avoid owning the Permit to Work process. Here are some of the main reasons:

  • If the Permit to Work safety process is too complicated and unclear, people avoid taking a role in it, trying to get rid of unnecessary hassle
  • Being under pressure for a long time eventually leads to frustration, boredom, or a “Why bother if nothing changes?” attitude.
  • Lack of trust, when people are simply afraid to say things aloud because of internal leadership culture, might lead to unrealized improvement initiatives. (There is a great book about it, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni)
  • In the manufacturing industry, people tend to work long periods at one position, which creates complacency and an “it has always been like that” state of mind.
People behaviour in permit to work process

All of these are examples of behaviors that create potential room for risky actions. The good news is that a well-designed Permit to Work safety process can support a team in overcoming or avoiding these behaviors

Operational Waste

The first challenge is an excess of operational waste—the PtW process is not efficient. Waste is a type of activity that doesn’t bring value to the client (i.e., to the team who operates the PtW process in our case) and does not contribute positively to safety.

At Unite-X, we believe that a leaner process is a safer process. Operational waste like waiting time or unnecessary movement triggers risky behaviors and forces people to cut corners on safety and costs organizations avoidable costs.

Waste in permit to work

How to identify waste

So, how do you know if your Permit to Work process is full of waste? Most people avoid taking ownership of inefficient processes, so observing your team’s perceptions could be the first step to understanding the process better.

Here are some signs of a badly designed Permit to Work process:

  • If your team is often rushing
  • If you often see a contractor sitting and waiting hours for permits before they can start
  • If tasks are often stuck, and projects do not progress
  • If you see a lot of re-dos, false steps, unclarity, and errors
  • If it is hard to plan or opposite planning doesn’t work

These common waste signals are important to pay attention to. Try not to blame others, but simply pay attention to the hurdles that are in the process itself.

Reasons for waste

There are many reasons why operational waste arises. It could be a result of poorly designed procedures or human neglect.

During our 20 years of observing Permit to Work safety processes around the globe, we defined three root problems:

  • Lack of full process overview: This is when team members have “tunnel vision,” being too focused on their part of the process and missing the full picture.
  • Lack of standardization: This refers to teams who do not re-use what was already improved and created and start from scratch every time
  • Lack of necessary tools: This is not necessarily software but methods and techniques that help to create situational awareness and to monitor the process, like Gemba, measurements and KPIs, kaizens sessions, etc.

Tackling these three problems decrease operational waste and help to build a smooth Permit to Work process.

You can watch a series of videos about each waste type here.

Missing Hazard Controls

The last root issue with the Permit to Work safety process is that we still often see that it is not ensuring a 100% safe work environment, even if it is fully compliant and established.

Even if you have a great process in place and a robust software program, important hazards and control measures could be left out. Why?

The job is done by people. People configure the software according to their expertise and knowledge. Sometimes their expertise is simply not enough to manage a particular case. This is very relevant for smaller sites, where they have limited access to experts.

By reusing a permit template with missing hazards, you create a “snowball effect” and duplicate the wrong permit to work handouts over and over.

The same comes to control measures. Your peer might use a better way to protect people, but you might be unaware of that, even if you are using the same software.

Thus, the process should be built in a way to contain all available safety expertise, best practices, and lessons learned in order to help people to avoid human errors and to guide them through the safeties possible path.

Missing hazards in permit to work

Permit to Work Solutions

So, what’s the solution to building a solid foundation for an efficient and safe Permit to Work process?

At Unite-X, we believe that a Permit to Work safety process should be as well-designed, clear, and transparent. This way, everyone following it can make the best choice possible.

In other words, if you want to go from A to B, follow the process, and you will go the most optimal and safe way.

We at Unite-X have created the “3E Model” to address the above-mentioned challenges:

  1. Engage: involve people in designing the process to ensure their buy-in and ownership, support and educate them constantly
  2. Enhance: Be aware of the existing operational waste, tackle it, measure it and focus on eliminating it from your process.
  3. Embed: choose the Permit to Work software that already contains the most effective best practices and the safest path of work proven by industry leaders.

All three principles we apply while implementing Unite-Permit to Work with our structured implementation framework.



The “chicken and egg” dilemma with the Permit to Work safety process issues can be solved by realizing everything is interconnected and impacts each other. People avoid owning inefficient processes, and inefficiencies in the process appear when no one owns them.

With Unite-Permit to Work, we do not tackle these elements separately but work with all of them to create synergy.

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“Digitalization Can Make People Think.”

Reflections from site director on the impact of Digitalization on the plant’s safety and other processes.

Digitalization is on the rise in the processing industry, and safety operations are changing at a rapid pace accordingly. There is also a lot of discussion about the current trend toward digitalization of safety processes and how it intersects with making them leaner and achieving the goal of zero incidents.

Does digitalization always improve processes? Can it help reach zero incidents? Or does it stop employees from thinking on their own?

To discuss these questions and the impacts of digitalization, Sjoerd Nanninga, Founder and Director of Unite-X, interviewed Kees van der Sluijs, Site Director at DSM DEM in Emmen.

Sjoerd: If you look at the overlap between digitalization, Lean methodology, and the focus on zero incidents, do you see them strengthening each other or in conflict?

Many people wonder if, in principle, achieving zero incidents is possible when related to safety and quality. Though it is hard to achieve, it is possible. Many factors influence zero incidents, and digitalization is one of the most recent impacts.

Contrary to what many people believe, digitalization does not stop people from thinking independently. Instead, it improves and strengthens processes. People are becoming increasingly aware that digital solutions are part of making flow lean and approaching zero.

Digitalization and Lean methodology are a great combination. Instead of using multiple manual checklists, digital systems can streamline the processes. This helps save both time and resources. Lean methodology and the zero incidents philosophy also work great together. Every incident is a loss of time, effort, and resources. Therefore, by focusing on zero incidents, you actively make the flow Lean.

But what if their plan was more flexible than that? Instead of calling them in for one job, there can be a backlog of potential tasks that meet their skill set. When the original plan falls through, they can simply pick up another task item on the list. And with a bunch of pre-defined templates, handing out permits for this newly-arisen task should not be a problem.

Sjoerd:  I’d add two more to this: digitalization frees up space for creativity. And it can also provide data to pinpoint what areas need attention.
Using digitalization to get to zero incidents is a big goal. What steps are needed to reach it?

It is essential to look at things in small, incremental steps. Most workers are not able to immediately analyze the big picture. Instead, they can focus on small steps to take, slowly progressing to the end goal.

Once processes are decomposed into small steps, workers can also identify what is required to improve things. They can bring their suggestions to management, who can respond quickly to a slight suggestion or improvement, rather than needing to approve an extensive overhaul. Thus workers get ownership over the improvement processes. They are also motivated to keep thinking about future improvements and encouraged when they see they are treated seriously and their suggestions implemented.

Sjoerd:  We want people to think about continuous improvement. What are the steps you have taken to make this a normal practice?

At DSM, we started DICI, or the DSM Integral Continuous Improvement journey. The goal is to give everyone a base, standard way of doing something. Once everyone utilizes standardized processes and procedures, different maturity levels mean you can implement various things and take more steps. It is a journey for many years and requires effort to improve continuously.

Instead of focusing only on meetings, checklists, and processes, we invest in people’s behavior. We want to stimulate good results and help people change. This means that there needs to be a focus on mindset and behavior—when these come together, you can achieve high performance.

Sjoerd: Now, when you mentioned a standardized approach, in Lean and digitalization, there is a focus on standardization. How do you decide when to standardize? What is the roadmap?

It is not always clear when something needs to be standardized. For example, if some process is rare and hardly occurs, it does not need to be standardized yet.

However, anything regarding tools needs to be standardized, especially while changing shifts. It is vital to have a deep level of standardization so anyone can come and use the tool, knowing precisely what needs to be done.

Another critical area of standardization is when there is a new process. If it has never been done before or is easy to forget, standardization helps everyone be on the same page.

Although even with standardization, you need to build space for people to think about things. It can be dangerous if people only rely on standardized instructions and do not think while they act.

Sjoerd:  There is an aging population in the workforce, and it can take a few years to really train people to be effective operators of digital environments. Do you recognize this problem? Are there any solutions?

We do notice a generational difference between operators. Those working for a long time can help train new operators with the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) because they know how to work with it hands-on and have years of knowledge to share.

When it comes to digitalizing SOPs or creating new ones, we find that young operators can learn more quickly.

For example, when a new SOP is implemented for a machine, we may place a QR code on the machine. The code links to a video that then explains how to use it. This process is familiar for younger operators, and they can learn very quickly in this way.

The leadership mission is to build the process that supports everyone in the team to smoothly go through changes, regardless of age, experience, or other aspects.


The overlap between digitalization, Lean approaches, and zero incidents creates necessary synergy for the continuous improvement journey. We believe that digitalization positively impacts incident rates and saves time and resources. Moreover, it frees up workers the time to unleash their creative thinking and thus supports them in changing their mindset toward constant recognition of possible improvements.

This article has been adapted from a video interview between Sjoerd Nanninga, Founder and Director of Unite-X and Kees van der Sluijs, Site Director bij DSM Emmen. To watch the full version of the interview, please follow the link.

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Why planning is challenging?

For most businesses and industries, planning is the key to success. You spend time thinking ahead, making estimates and assumptions, and building a plan.  

But when it comes to lean manufacturing, planning is a bit of an oxymoron. Unlike traditional manufacturing processes that operate on a push model (i.e., make estimates > build inventory > and move through the supply chain), lean manufacturing is a pull model.  

Lean operates on a core concept that reality is so complex that instead of enormous planning, it is best to keep things simple. At Toyota, they discovered that predictive algorithms have great limitations, especially if used for large complex organizations like a manufacturing plant, where many factors vary and can have a significant impact on reality versus planning. 

This is 100% fair for the Operational Safety Excellence domain, where lean principles are applied to safety management. Plans are complex, and there’s no place for that in Operational Safety Excellence.  

So how do you plan when planning is not possible? Planning from an operational safety excellence perspective is built on three principles: simplicity, flexibility, and continuity. 

Planning with Simplicity

There is an old military saying: no plan survives contact with the enemy.  

The heart of this idea is that things are more complex than we can ever predict. So, we make our plans to provide some direction and structure, but we know they will be disrupted when they “reach the enemy” or get enacted.  

This reality calls for simple planning in lean and applicable for safety management operations.  

Consider the Kanban system for-inventory management. Say a company frequently orders and uses notebooks for their daily operations. They keep a stock in their storage room, and once the stock is at one-quarter capacity, a signal alerts staff they need to re-order. It’s a simple system that tells you what you need when you need it.  

This type of system can be applied to many situations because it’s grounded in the reality of what is happening instead of relying on complex projections. You don’t need a mathematics genius to predict the exact number of notebooks you need, just a simple trigger when you’re running out!  

We can spend so much time planning just to throw it out when we face the battle of daily operations. Keep it simple, and you’ll see how much easier it is to stick with plans.

Key takeaway: Simplicity should drive all safety management processes. Take inspiration from the Kanban method by creating a pull system for your workflow, where pre-determined milestones trigger the next phase in a workflow.

Planning with Flexibility

The second core tenant of planning for operational safety excellence is to be flexible with your plans. Again, the reality is more complex than we can even imagine, so creating rigid plans will never work.  

Take this situation, for example, a service person is called in to provide some routine maintenance and cleaning on some equipment. But unfortunately, the production plan changed and now the equipment cannot be served as originally planned. The person called in for a specific job, according to a specific plan, cannot do the task—they are standing idly by.  

But what if their plan was more flexible than that? Instead of calling them in for one job, there can be a backlog of potential tasks that meet their skill set. When the original plan falls through, they can simply pick up another task item on the list. And with a bunch of pre-defined templates, handing out permits for this newly-arisen task should not be a problem.

Key takeaway: Flexible plans are successful plans. Instead of a rigid plan where only one thing can happen, include multiple “back-ups” so you can easily shift to something else when the original plan falls through.

Planning with Continuity

Aligned with the concept of flexibility is the need for continuous adjustment to your plans. This is another way you can prepare for unexpected changes to a pre-determined plan.  

Most companies operate on a weekly planning system. On Thursday, they start pulling together work orders or permit requests needed for the next week. Friday is approval day, and the plan is set out—they’re ready to go for Monday. But again, what happens when things change? Who is empowered to make new decisions? How do you adjust for unexpected events? 

A better system is to participate in continuous backlog grooming, a concept that’s part of Agile software development. Backlog grooming is the concept of continuously evaluating what is and is not working in the task workflow and adjusting it accordingly.  

In practice, this looks like weekly planning coupled with daily reviews. The initial planning is still important, but it should be adjusted daily. A practice could be established of having the night shift, for example, review safety plans for the next day.  

The main question in this process is: are we ready and prepared for tomorrow? They groom the tasks and ensure that things are ready for tomorrow based on the present situation, not an idealized plan of what should happen.  

Continuous planning means that all stakeholders need to be aligned on what’s changing. Daily stand-up meetings or other processes can ensure there is consensus around the new, changed plan.

Key takeaway: Move away from a one-time planning system. Planning is an ongoing, continuous process that involves multiple people. When you keep the question “Are we ready for tomorrow?” in mind, your team will be empowered to make changes and adjustments to whatever is necessary at that time.


Planning in safety management with an operational safety excellence perspective has three pillars: simplicity, flexibility, and continuity. It is a departure from the old ways that required detailed and ambitious advance planning.

Instead, lean manufacturing principles applied to safety acknowledge that reality is complex, so our plans must be simple.

Besides increased efficiency and productivity, following this framework for operational safety excellence will reduce overburden amongst employees. Instead of being held to rigid plans, they’re actually empowered to make decisions and will develop stronger teamwork and communication through continuous improvement.

For all this to work, there needs to be a strong, mature relationship between the maintenance and production departments. It is important that the two work together in a cycle of continuous change and flexibility, evaluating what is next and what needs to be done to make tomorrow successful.

And if teams align with these tenants of lean manufacturing, they will be able to achieve operational safety excellence, decrease the burden on workers, and have more productive work environments.

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Standardization: Challenges and Opportunities

There are many challenges companies are facing today. From unexpected events to economic pressure to the job market—it has become difficult for companies to keep their Lean approach to safety management. Waiting times are increasing, quality is decreasing, and companies are overburdened.

Why is this happening? And is there a way to resolve it?

Over the last couple of years, companies have faced a few significant challenges that make operations suffer. Waiting times for permits and other operational necessities have increased and, because of this, the quality of them is often poor. This all applies pressure to the workforce, and employees are overburdened.

Compounding this problem are two factors:

  • Job market: It is challenging to retain staff when they have an abundance of job opportunities available to them. High turnover results in lost knowledge and experience and lost time with training and onboarding.
  • Supplier availability: Suppliers are also overworked and have an abundance of jobs available to them—they can pick and choose what they want. Companies, then, must work with whoever is available, which means a lot of time is spent getting the contractor up to speed on the company’s operations and goals.

This situation has created an overburdened workforce in the safety management industry. Companies that are trying to operate on Lean principles cannot deal with these disruptive events and challenges. Companies need a new solution to resolve this issue—standardization.

Two approaches to Safety Management

The old way to approach safety management projects, tasks, or jobs was by asking: what are we going to do?

A company will look at what needs to be done and pull together contracts, permits, and tasks and responsibilities. They might draw on past experiences or ideas but are creating something new each time. This approach focuses on creation and idea generation—always starting at square one and trying to decide how to move forward.

In contrast, the new safety management solution is to work with standardized templates that go beyond generic instruction for several types of activities and hazards, like a corporate standard on how to handle hot work, line break, etc. This is about setting up very detailed standards for the many jobs that are carried out on site.

Instead of creating something new, you are starting from a standard and revising it along the way from the perspective of looking at the unique aspects of this particular job execution.

So the kick-off question of starting a new job in standardized reality is: what is different this time?

Standardization represents a culture shift. Instead of generating new information each time, you rely on checking information.  Make appropriate adjustments, evaluate the process, and then revise the template for next time.

Creating Templates Library

This new approach to standardization includes:

  • Detailed, high-quality templates for every single job, project, responsibility, job, or initiative with step-by-step information on what needs to get done and who will do it.
  • An accessible database of standard templates that are ready to use when needed.
  • A thorough review of templates and standards to continually improve and adjust.

After a template library exists, then the process for any new project or initiative is simple—you select a relevant template, review and adjust it, and move forward. No time is wasted on defining what we need to do. It is clear what needs to be done, so all energy can be directed towards accomplishing it.

As we see standardized approach requires an up-front time investment into the template library. Creating and maintaining the templates is a key job in each company and so adequate resources should be devoted to it. Having a detailed and accessible database library of standard templates will help companies go from creating from scratch each time to simply adjusting and revising based on the needs of the current project.

When companies invest in standardization, they can increase efficiency and quality while reducing errors, mistakes, and wasted time.

How to Introduce Standardization for Safety Management

Companies interested in standardization need to invest time and money into creating their template library. It’s a long-term project and needs to be done systematically, with strong attention to detail. Leadership should prioritize time to complete the project, but also invest in staff and professionals who have administrative, project management, and organizational expertise to help build the template library.

The standardization process is as follows:

  1. Start with a vision: Standardization is a culture shift, and everyone needs to be on board with the changes. It’s important that companies see this as a necessary change and part of Lean principles.
  2. Prioritize: Start with areas of your operations that are the highest risk and, therefore, the most key areas to improve. You can also prioritize what is most used or the most important areas of your operations.
  3. Determine responsibilities: Create a clear outline of who will be responsible for what area of the standardization and template process.
  4. Define metrics: How will you know you’re successful? Consider what metrics are important to your company and build them into the standard templates.
  5. Evaluate: Each time you use a standard template, evaluate its efficacy. These evaluations should also be standardized, too, so that you collect the same data each time.
  6. Revise: Based on the evaluation, revise and adjust the templates as needed. This is an essential piece of the process and ensures that the library is kept up-to-date at all times.

A future next step might also be to share templates within the company with different departments. And, depending on the company’s market position, it may also be possible to share across companies, too. There is a willingness, even between fierce competitors, to collaborate in the safety domain. Since the goal is to reduce the need to generate and create something new each time, sharing and repurposing standard templates should always be a priority.


Standardization is a modern approach to safety management that incorporates Lean values while addressing the challenges faced by companies today. Having a detailed and accessible database library of standard templates will help companies go from creating from scratch each time to simply adjusting and revising based on the needs of the current project.

To move towards standardization, companies need to start with the vision and understand the difference this process can make. From there, they can follow a systematic process of standardization of their operations. It will transform their overburdened employees, maximize efficiency, and help them reach company goals in achieving Operational Safety Excellence.

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Compliance: How to pursue people to adhere to what is agreed?

Safety agreements come in various forms: from legal and internal regulations to production process descriptions, customer contracts, workers carrying out their work as instructed, employers providing their employees with adequate guidance and protection, and maintaining a suitable maintenance program for heavy machinery.

Teams closely monitor agreements by internal and external auditing to remain compliant. However, the desirable level of Compliance is achieved when everyone follows safety standards without direct supervision.

In this article, we will discuss how to engage people at plants to maximize Compliance with rules and regulations for a safer and more effective production environment.

Why it is so hard to be compliant

Safety-minded professionals are aware of how crucial Compliance checks are. Yet, when you start talking with safety experts about their approach to safety audits, you will immediately capture boredom in their eyes. Nobody finds this topic interesting or inspiring.

From one perspective, that is explained by the fact that compliance checks execution often overloads operations and day-to-day activities. It requires continuous effort and tracking to understand and overview the production surrounding and identify deviations clearly.

Furthermore, the high level of responsibility associated with the performance of a Compliant process creates extra tension on the shop floor.

So Compliance checks are often a painful part of Safety professionals’ jobs.

Compliance is more than following rules

However, the Operational Safety Excellence domain considers Compliance an opportunity to investigate processes for creating potential improvement opportunities and engaging the team on Safety topics.

To ensure this happens, we need two essential ingredients:
1. There is a joined vision on Compliance, driving everyone’s behavior
2. There is a safety management system that dictates the Compliance

While working on achieving the maximally possible level of Compliance, the team usually eliminates hurdles that prevent from following the rules and thus removes non-value-adding activities, getting a better leaner flow in return as a side effect.

Let’s overview these ingredients in detail below.

Ensuring joined vision on Compliance

Now let’s look together at how management can ensure the fundamental conditions of excellent Compliance in Safety at the plant.

Compliance gets achieved when internally motivated.

To ensure this:
• Promote the reasons behind rules, not the rules themselves.
• Involve all operators and managers who are engaged and running the process. Listen to their concerns and pain points.
• Spark a discussion by asking how the rules relate to everyone’s personal working conditions. Take this as a starting point to find common ground.
• Show everyone specific needs have been taken into account in the best way possible to avoid the resistance.

Thus you empower all team members to influence their daily working circumstances and gain the necessary level of internal motivation.

Compliance is more about understanding why the rule is essential than learning the rule itself.

Frequent control to check things are done accordingly causes a waste of time and resources, while a passive attitude awaiting orders makes decision-making and corrective actions even slower.

To ensure people proactively take responsibility for their job area compliance:

• Identify the shared values of the team to help you in this process.
• Don’t impose a set of rules without clearly outlining their value.
• Change your team mindset toward Compliance outcome.
• Responsibilize people for their area of action and equip them to make decisions rather than waiting for direction from above.

Compliance requires a shared effort amongst all parties involved.

«I saw Production Operators get more involved, actively ask: “Wait, is this correct? Is this on the right point? Is it properly locked out? Let’s try and make sure”. I think it’s been a big improvement». This quote from a Production Supervisor at the one of the industry leaders describes the best mindset you want to achieve in the team.

How do you make it happen:

• Get everyone in the discussion on how to achieve Compliance together, agree on principles and values
• Invest time in writing clear rules, and co-design them with the team to share the ownership
• Ensure there are no obstacles to implementing the rules and the appropriate equipment is available if required.

Small practicalities

There are also a few small practical tips on how to support people in adhering to what was agreed:

• Provide a step-by-step guidelines
• Use precise, unambiguous language
• Add pictures and pictograms
• Deliver instructions in different formats
• Make sure guidelines are accessed easily

Additionally, to focus the team effort around achieving Compliance, it should be possible to evaluate the current state and report on the progress. Getting accurate data and following KPIs related to Compliance can help the team not lose that track.

Building a proper system ensuring Compliance

Internal and external audits are not the only vehicles to ensure maximum Compliance. In fact, one should never rely solely on them. Checking the reality of execution vs. the initial plan should be built into the holistic system of managing safety processes.

The proper process management systems set-up will help you to:

  • Move from experiencing audits as a hassle, but consider them as the support to find value-adding improvements to your current way of doing things.
  • Get the opportunity for a complete overview of the process and improve further by collaborating with an external party.

In other words, the system should be designed so that being compliant is the most effective way to behave for everyone.

This is what a SHE Manager from one of the users of Unite-X safety management software says about the effective system: «The biggest challenge was keeping up with paper Permits to make sure they were compliant with our company Life-Saving rules. With Unite, they are automatically embedded, and that was such a relief as I became confident we were following governance.»


To ensure Compliance is not a hurdle but an opportunity, there should be particular prerequisites and a proper system.

We at Unite-X offer you our best practices and observation based on more than 20 years of experience together with our clients turning Compliance issues of various complexity into opportunities for Operational Safety Excellence.

We believe that only well-developed systems of internal interactions allow getting to the core of the “Why” and creating a collective agreement on the steps needed to achieve Compliance.

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What should the robust Permit to Work system look like?

A permit to work system is a formal process of stating exactly what work is to be done, where, and when. 

For years, printed on paper permits were the main items on the desk of safety experts, and even with a massive wave of digitalization, many of them still prefer paper. “It is just bigger,” says one of the Unite-X clients, SHE leader in a global corporation, unfolding a large sheet of paper with a printed version on it. “I immediately see everything I need”.

Hard to argue that a small-screen tablet gives less space for overview. However, digital permit-to-work software offers so many other benefits that beat the print size.

In this article, we investigate the impact of digitalization on permitting process and how digital permits exceed paper in helping to achieve Operational Safety Excellence.

What is the Permit to Work System?

Permits authorize workers to perform specific tasks within specific time frames utilizing standard procedures. This way the Permit to Work process helps protect the health and safety of frontline workers and the site’s assets and environment.

The permit includes information about required safety precautions, detailed information about how to perform the job, and any critical handover information. The Permit to Work process also triggers warnings about potential hazards, prevents errors, helps solve conflicts, and minimizes risk at the plant.

This definition of the Permit to Work is mainly related to compliance: ensuring all the jobs are done according to the head SHE office rules and government regulations.

But the permitting system is much more than just a shield protecting from internal and external audits. Actually, an optimal and effective permitting system can become a pillar of achieving Operational Safety Excellence.

Jobs performed under permits form a core of the plant’s flow. Records of planned, active, and closed permits can tell just as a fascinating story about the life on the production site as bills written on papyrus can tell about life in ancient Egypt.

Permits are vital for communication between site management, plant supervisors and operators, and frontline workers. They contain an enormous amount of data, which properly grouped, processed, and analyzed can signal problems and losses, triggering continuous improvements.

With the crucial role of the permitting process in the plant’s life, a not-optimal permitting process can significantly impact the plant’s general efficiency and safety levels.

Paper problems

If you walk into a large production site, where paper-based security regulation is still in place, it is fascinating to observe their archive. You will most likely see towers of paper on desks of Safety Department folks, folders with sticky notes indicating the time and date of the documentation.

For audit, this is everything from inconvenience to a real nightmare. Auditors usually pick a random document from those piles. But getting valuable information about the real situation of plant safety, especially in dynamics, is close to impossible.

However, an audit is only one perspective of the issue. Paper-based Permit to Work process often has a bad reputation as a source of frustration for the people that work with it daily because of:

  • Lack of overview for leading people to make decisions
  • Inaccurate or poor information communication
  • Incorrect measures or unclear descriptions caused by incorrect work permits
  • High costs caused by unnecessary waiting times, especially for contractors
  • Mismatches in the execution of processes among the various teams and plants due to unclear rules
  • High risk of people breaching rules caused by unworkable procedures

In our (Unite-X) practice, we saw the cases where teams shared the observation that the other team has a different “style” of creating permits, which made communication harder. Instead of solving up-to-date issues, they first needed to translate the permit into the “language” understandable by everyone in the daily meetings.

Hands up here, solely transfer from paper to electronic permitting system does not solve these issues immediately. The solutions lie mainly in the field of proper process design. Let’s take a look at how the process should be built for moving closer to Operational Safety Excellence.

Download the Unite-Permit to Work product brochure

Good Permit to Work processes should be:


If you walk into any plant in the world in the morning, you’ll usually find workers waiting around for the permits necessary to do their jobs. Instead of working hands-on, they might spend anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes every morning just waiting for permits to be approved and issued. This is not an efficient use of anyone’s time or money!

Plus, workers may be anxious to start their jobs once the permits are assigned or they might feel uninspired and disengaged from their work. They might also feel pressure to rush into their work to make up for the lost time. It can be hard to plan ahead for their day, so they might grab more material than they need for their assigned task. This leads to increased waste and risk of incidents at the site.

Instead, applying lean methodologies improves safety performance and reduces waste in safety processes.


Within the standardizing principles lies the idea that every abnormality in the process signals a potential error.

As a tool that people use in their day-to-day routines, the Permit to Work process needs to be standardized. Permitting process utilizes practices and procedures that are constantly re-used. It is important to have a deep level of standardization so shifts can come and use the tool, knowing precisely what needs to be done.

A standardized way of handing out permits by using pre-defined templates, by default compliant with corporate regulations, also frees up the time and effort necessary to kick off the continuous improvement mindset of the team.

“Without standards, there can be no kaizen” this famous quote, attributed to Taiichi Ohno, is also very relevant for the Permit to Work process. If you want to learn more about the role of standardization in Operational Safety Excellence, download the white paper here.


Strong, data-driven processes should be the basis for good, efficient decision-making. Therefore, it is important to build the process that will allow to capture and measure the performance of Permit to Work from all possible perspectives.

Measurement and re-measurements help to extract necessary data for your site to:

  • Create reachable goals and long-term objectives
  • Understand any deviations from those goals and objectives
  • Measure progress towards those goals and objectives
  • Understand the root cause of any issues, should they arise
  • Meaningfully benchmark results

Moreover, a proper measurement system will help to identify “waste” as non-value-adding activities and to re-balance effort towards value-adding.

So digital or paper?

Looking at the above said about three characteristics of a decent permitting system – lean, standardized, and measurable – digital Permit to Work systems obviously will serve this goal better. No human can beat the ability of modern software in considering all necessary settings, prompt handouts and reviews, re-use templates, and close the loop of feedback.

Instead of using multiple manual checklists with manual efforts, digital systems streamline the processes and save both time and resources.

There is also a common hurdle that “digitalization makes people stop thinking” has actually proved to be wrong in 2022. It is totally the opposite, without non-necessary hassle, people tend to be more creative and motivated to improve processes around them even further. We explore this topic with a plant manager from DSM in our article “Digitalization can make people think”

No matter how small is the screen of your electronic device, only a digital system can allow you the fullest overview of the current status of the plant, including:

  • Real-time updates and actual situation overviews to the entire team
  • Ability to attach additional informational documents and work instructions to a permit
  • Ability to involve and reach all necessary parties simultaneously
  • A full overview of permits, their status, and their history
  • Ability to close the loop of learning and re-use the best practices.

These and other features give you comprehensive control over the plant, that no paper tower archive can offer.

Digital Permit to Work: how to make it happen?

With the proven implementation framework, Unite-X supports and educates production teams to ensure organizations elevate towards Operational Safety Excellence by means of digital tools.

We utilize industry knowledge, team effort, and digital tools to ensure a smooth implementation process. Read more about how the Unite-X Permit to Work software here.

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Top Things to Consider for Successful Management of Change 

How to move the organization through the change with confidence

Production plants for Chemicals, Food, Pharma, etc., need to perform changes all the time — whether the change is in a shift organization, a new process or product introduction, equipment replacement, or another type of change.

Production plants are designed to be safe for the people who work there and the surrounding, so running organizational or technical changes through the safe path must be managed exceptionally well. Before executing a change, the risks of that change must be known and evaluated. Only then can the organization move forward with confidence.

Keep reading to learn more about what makes for effective and safe change management.

Why is good management of change important?

Whether big or small change occurs, every site must go through certain phases, including proposing, approving, implementing, and checking a change.

There are many perspectives to consider in the change process. For example, different specialties like electrical, mechanical, safety, and process are all people who need to work together on their piece of the change and give the change their blessing. The critical question they seek to answer is always will this change introduce any new risks?

Additionally, there should always be someone overlooking the entire change process to balance these perspectives and ensure nothing is overlooked. There are many factors and perspectives to consider for each change, and each change can have a significant impact on the overall process, flow, efficiency, and safety of a site. The management of change procedure should support everything goes as smoothly as possible.

How to define a change?

It is essential to define what we consider a change.

How “big” or “small” the change is determined by the level of risk it introduces. If the plant starts using a new pen in the office, that is probably too small to be managed as a change. Though sometimes, a tiny change can introduce enormous risks. One wrong spare part can bring down an airplane. The key is recognizing changes and adequately assessing the risks they could trigger.

It is a valuable exercise to look in maintenance management systems or permit to work systems to review jobs described there and check whether the job is actually about executing a change. It tells you something about the effectiveness of the organization in recognizing changes.

Once we define a change and identify which events should be managed as a change, it is also essential to decide how to manage them.

Having a single approach to managing changes usually is insufficient. Often when employees find the procedure of submitting low-risk change requests too complex, they tend to bypass it. Thus to handle different types of change fast and smoothly enough, the approach should be agile, and .changes need to be managed differently depending on the scope, complexity, and risk involved in the change.

Download paper on Standardization prepared by Operational Safety Excellence experts.

A hurdle to innovation

One of the downsides of an ineffective change management process is that it prevents innovations. Innovations trigger changes at all levels, technical, behavioral, cultural. While change occurs, it is crucial to keep current processes running smoothly without introducing new risks.

Moreover, if people know that the existing process of managing changes does not support them enough, and thus, changes cause a rise in stress level, hassle, massive documentary work, and extra pressure on safety measures, they may resist the change. The fact that the process’s complexity is high can also result in changes being lost. Somebody is reviewing but not clear who that is. How many changes do you have hanging somewhere halfway?

As a result, those who might benefit from innovation prefer to keep the “oldie, but goodie” status quo.

Why should a site implement management of change software? 

There are many benefits to implementing management of change software onsite. 

Control of risks

Proper management of change process helps to keep risks low and manage safety at the site by keeping everyone informed of all the ongoing jobs and changes.

The ability to innovate

Creating flow in the process of change will allow the plants to manage more changes. Changes are not done for nothing. They are meant to reduce risks or make the plant more effective or efficient. Do more of them.

Increased efficiency and waste avoidance

Management of change software provides an easy-to-use overview of everything that needs to be done and when it needs to be done. It also helps keep the process flowing so the site can handle more changes with fewer people, optimize resources, and focus on innovation. 

Data insights to inform decisions

Tracking every job in the management of change software can help you gather data and identify phenomena like bottlenecks in the process. You can see where the problems are and why. This data can be used to make practical, informed decisions on how to improve the process flow. 

Clear procedures and responsibilities 

Using the management of change software helps with clear communication and puts everything in one shared dashboard. It allows responsibilities to be easily assigned and procedures to be mapped out. This means there is less need for overhead and oversight, which can greatly improve efficiency. 

Increased compliance

Management of change software can help keep processes streamlined and on track. This can help ensure that your site is fully compliant with all necessary regulations. It also provides a traceable, trackable record of everything that was done and when. This makes it easy to go back if there are any issues. Having a traceable record can be greatly helpful for site audits.

Acts as a back-up

While nothing is a failsafe, implementing good management of change software can help you and your site avoid mistakes and remind you of what needs to be done so that nothing is forgotten.

Process components of change management 

So, what does good management of change look like?

Firstly, the proper process should be adaptable to the nature of change, its scope, complexity, and risk involved in the change choosing the confident path to realize the change. Risks drive the process.

Secondly, the process should contain four basic steps: make the plan, approve the plan, execute the plan, and finally close the job. There are smaller checks to make within these four basic steps, including identifying and mitigating risks, providing necessary authorizations, and completing the required inspections.

Thirdly, the process should be traceable and measurable at each step, giving everybody involved an overview of if everything goes smoothly with a change. For example, measuring the time required to approve changes, several changes with open actions, or time delays between actual versus planned due date of the change can signal if the change goes effectively and put the process on constant improvement rails.


A successful process of implementing change is only possible if the procedure fits the different types of changes and if means are available to share the information correctly and make the status of the change transparent to all those involved.  

And that calls for robust management of change software and Unite-X safety software offers this.

Read more about how the Unite-X management of change software can help you. 

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