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. Moreover, there is a constant popular thought that safety is a standalone department and the headache of a responsible EHS person only.

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. Read more on the topic here.

 

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.

Conclusion

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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