Ensuring Safe Work
Stop Work Authority and Permit to Work Help Boost Safety and Efficiency
by Dan Ferriter, HSE Director
Oil and gas work, and mining in general, involve heavy equipment and hazardous substances, making safety a major issue every minute of every day. Those of us in the safety sector have seen what happens when there is a lapse in safety, even sometimes for just a second or two.
That’s why Stop Work Authority and Permit to Work, two of our top safety behaviors, extend to every worker—because anyone at any time might be the first one to detect a problem.
Stop Work Authority
There are two things we say in introducing or reviewing this topic. First, every single employee has the authority to stop work. If they think there’s something unsafe or if they’re unclear or if there’s a hazard they’re concerned about, or whatever, they 100 percent have the authority to stop a job.
Second, they not only have the ability to do that, they have the obligation. This one is harder to drive home because people’s tendency is to avoid confrontation or to not sound like ‘the bad guy.’ Our point is that if you don’t alert someone to an unsafe situation, that is when you’re actually the bad guy. And if everyone knows that they share that responsibility, it should avoid any bad feelings.
There’s never a penalty for stopping work. Even if the employee just didn’t understand something, stopping work for a clearer explanation or training is okay—because there are fewer incidents when everything is understood. Getting all of the employees on the same page to discuss what is happening is key to Stop Work Authority, even if it turns out the trigger for the Stop Work Authority was not an issue.
Permit to Work
This is one of the specifics of Stop Work Authority. We have defined permits for entering a confined space or doing hot work, lock out / tag out (another safety procedure to be discussed in a future blog) or ground disturbance (digging, trenching or even driving a stake). These permits formalize procedures for those types of tasks.
It includes identifying the hazards and risks of the job to verify that the right measures are in place to reduce or eliminate them. Team members make sure all energy sources are eliminated; they make sure everybody communicates around that. When completed, everyone signs off.
When the scope changes, the job must stop until the permit is updated. If the change is big enough, the permit is closed and the job is postponed until everything is updated or resolved.
When a permit to work crosses shifts, it is extremely important for the first shift to update it with all changes. In my personal experience at a previous company, I saw one shift fail to note that they had moved wiring to a different breaker. The next shift turned off the old breaker, thinking they were safe—and, let’s just say, a disaster was avoided by the tiniest margin.
The key to everything is to stop a few minutes and think about every job before you do it. This boosts safety as well as efficiency.