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1. Why are permits to work and control of contractors given so much attention by Insurers?
Hot work and contractors are attributed as being two of the top four causes of loss in commercial property, with Arson being the top cause and electrical being the other. By definition all hot work losses are avoidable but in practice this is difficult to achieve cost effectively. Having a successful permit to work system and an effective control of contractors program will significantly reduce the likelihood of loss from these two top causes
2. How can I be sure the permit to work system is operated correctly?
Part of your risk management regime should include a self inspection program which should review the permit to work process including a check of all issued permits to ensure they have been issued correctly. Ensuring the checks and balances are implemented and controlled correctly is another good way of ensuring the permit to work system is operating correctly. The key here is culture and once contractors are clear as to what standards and controls they will be required to comply with so the process will become more robust.
3. What additional measures can I take?
Anytime a contractor or other non-employee is granted access to your property there is an increased risk. Setting adequate controls including completion of risk assessments and method statements are a must. Effectively reviewing these to ensure that safe acts and practices are to be used by the contractor is needed (albeit time consuming). Restricting the amount of permits that are issued for a particular area is also important and coordinating permits so that for instance, hot work is not completed if the fire protection system is impaired. Given the long period of monitoring that is needed post completion of the activity it is also advisable to curtail hazardous activities well in advance of the normal days working to allow sufficient monitoring to be completed before shut down
4. Are there other risk factors which I should consider?
Permits to work can be created for any number of different activities, the Q-PERM system is based on the more common of these permits. Q-PERM allows additional permits to work to be added, along with other documents such as site plans in adobe pdf format. If you have any suggestions for improving the permits that are included in the system please let us know as we constantly seek to improve the usefulness of the product.
5. My insurance company recommends I use their hot work permit format
All insurance companies have standard forms for various activities including hot work. The single most important issue is making sure whatever system is adopted is that it works for your organisation. There is very little difference between the various insurance company recommended forms. The permits presented in Q-PERM represent best practice and are combined into software designed to make the process more efficient and manageable.
6. Can I use my own permits instead of those provided in the system?
The permits contained within the system have been developed in conjunction with a number of leading Insurance Companies and deviation from this set could result in withdrawal of their approval of the system.
7. Why can't I buy the software program outright and why do I have to buy an annual license?
There are a number of reasons for presenting the software on an annual license basis:
- a. There will be changes to the software program to improve functionality and keep it up to date
- b. An annual license fee significantly reduces the price for which software can be offered for sale.
8. Why can't the precautions be completed on screen before the permits are issued?
Automating the permit to work process is challenging because of the temptation to complete precautions on-screen before the permit has actually been printed which violates one of the golden rules, that no permit should be issued until the work place where the activity is actually going to be performed has been inspected. Workplace conditions can change by the minute, whilst conditions can be determined as being safe within a few minutes the actions of others can increase the level of risk associated with the area and breach the conditions of the permit.
9. What constitutes a designated area?
A designated area is place where the conditions outlined in the permit are always complied with. In the case of hot work that would mean that the area was always clear of combustible materials, that equipment was in a safe working condition, that a fire extinguisher was always present and so on
10. Do I still need to issue a hot work permit for work in a designated area?
No, provided that the area is in continuous compliance with the precautions set out in the permit then there is no need to issue a permit for a designated area. It is important that the designated area is included in the fire safety inspection program as a means of completing an audit of the conditions.
11. What is a fire safety inspection program?
A fire safety inspection program is a periodic audit that considers all elements of the fire prevention. It is an audit tool that supports the Fire Risk Assessment process and often forms part of the Health and Safety Inspection program. Audits should be completed monthly, a sample check sheet is provided in the download area of this web site.
12. What if not all the precautions can be complied with?
It is inevitable that there will be instances when not all conditions of the permits can be complied with. In which case careful risk assessment is needed and an increase in the level of other precautions applied. The most common cause for non-compliance is when hot work is needed in close proximity to combustible construction. For example torch applied roofing membranes over foam insulation products, or working in close proximity to composite or insulated panel construction which uses combustible foam cores. There are some circumstances where as a result of the outcome of the precautions checks Hot Work can simply not be performed. Examples would include composite panels with a polystyrene foam insulation core, or hot work in a combustible roof space with limited means of escape (confined space).
13. When Work Control Permits are issued, should they in all circumstances be displayed at the location of the work or is there any circumstance where leaving the permit in the issuing book is acceptable?
The permit to work process is a tool for managing and implementing controls for when the completion of hazardous activities is absolutely necessary and there is no way of avoiding it. There are several key elements probably the most important being checking the area of work against the precautions listed on the permit. The permit then acts as a record of the decisions taken at the time the permit was issued. If the permit is left in the book the permit issuer may be tempted to issue the permit without checking / inspecting the work area first.
Depending on how you have structured your permit to work system (you may issue every visiting contractor with a General Permit to Work or Work Authorisation) depends on how you wish to control and monitor the work being done on your site. For paper based systems you will need at least one copy held centrally and then you will need to retrieve the original from the person completing the work (in-house or contractor) when the work is done. For electronic systems, it is becoming common practice to issue only one copy as the electronic system does all the control, audit and monitoring.
Auditing should be an inherent part of the permit process, so if a hazardous activity is being completed, then it should be possible to audit the work area part way through the job, review the permit and check that all precautions and safe working conditions are still true, if not (i.e. conditions have changed) then work should be stopped. Similarly if you are issuing permits to all contractors then you should be able to request their general permit to work, compare say the required PPE listed on the permit to what they actually have and take appropriate action if necessary.
Therefore, permits should be accessible at the location of work, not necessarily displayed, but readily available.
14. What the requirement is for document retention periods for the completed permits.
12 months is the norm. This is more for audit and compliance purposes,for example your property insurance company may survey your facility once a year and when they do they should review your completed permits (particularly Hot Work). Depending on the number of permits you issue, you could use a set of 12 folders, labelled Jan through December then file into the relevant month and when the month comes back round, either archive off or dispose of last years permits.
15. Please can you clarify who should undertake the completing of hot work permits i.e. the contractor carrying out the actual work or my company as the people having the work carried out?
If the work takes place in a defined area which is under the control of the Contractor then it is their responsibility to implement an appropriate permit to work system. It is the clients responsibility to ensure that an adequate system is in place, particularly if an incident (hot work fire) would present an exposure to the clients buildings/operaitons. The client would be advised to audit / inspect the contractors system for effectiveness. If the work is in an area still under the control of the client, then the client's permit to work system should be used.