In the last couple of years, we’ve witnessed a drastic increase in firms looking to switch from paper to digital Permit to Work (PTW) systems.
Essentially, being able to request, approve and issue a permit digitally increases the efficiency and transparency of processes , which leads to better communication of safety protocols. For example, a digital system has the benefits of business rules, automation, and widespread access that a paper-based system does not. It can recognize conflicts in real-time and doesn’t struggle with legibility.
The question is, what considerations should you take when switching your reliable and familiar (if a little outdated!) paper system for digital PTW?
From our conversations with Safety and Operations professionals, there are three main points.
Let’s address them individually so you can start benefitting from the many digital advantages.
1. Tackle “don’t fix what ain’t broken” mentality
Paper-based PTW systems have been around forever, and we can’t argue they don’t work.
In fact, workers are familiar with these systems and have received formal training on them, so it’s not inconceivable that some may have objections to a new system.
How can you justify investing time and money into something workers may resist?
To this point, the “if it ain’t broke” ideology is frequently cited to Safety teams seeking change, despite the common “safety is our top priority” messaging often found in corporate mission statements.
Even with the many advantages associated, it is undeniable that PTW represents a significant investment.
Usually, enterprise-class Permit to Work software licenses can cost between $25,000 – $50,000 USD yearly.
However, consider this:
- Going paperless reduces your carbon footprint – digital forms cut your use of paper and will help achieve your sustainability goals.
- Less time spent on admin – how much time do workers spend shuffling through, scanning or emailing physical PTW forms?
- Paper cannot replicate some digital features – for example, automatic notification when there are conflicting permits helps avoid dangerous scenarios.
Evaluating the costs and benefits clearly will define the project as the investment in Health & Safety that it is, and clear the path of board opposition to switching from to digital.
2. Manage the risk of change
When building the business case for your digital PTW switch, another factor to consider is risk.
What if user adoption is low and the project fails?
Additionally, Safety and Operational change unavoidably have the added risk of endangering workers.
Not many projects are without risk. However, we can overcome this obstacle through appropriate planning and management.
There are two steps to address the risk of change.
Choose a digital Permit to Work system aligned with enterprise IT
The first step is selecting a digital PTW solution that culturally suits your organization.
Have you considered which enterprise IT the business is already using? Be that Microsoft 365, Google Suite or another, there are PTW software vendors that will specialize in these systems.
You will reduce the risk of user rejection greatly by eliminating common adoption blockers, for example:
- Single sign on (SSO) – employees don’t need a new username and password to log in
- Familiar user environment – workers are already familiar with the look and feel of the system
- App integration – means you can use associated apps in your platform (e.g. Teams or Power BI for Office 365)
It’s all about choosing a digital PTW system that fits seamlessly into existing processes.
The value of project management
The second step to reducing risk is finding a vendor that will take the time to understand your organization and requirements.
A successful digital PTW system requires planning, training, and careful management.
Importantly, workshops should be carried out to ensure all requirements are satisfied. This should ideally be followed by several rounds of user acceptance testing (UAT), and finally train-the-trainer training.
The aim of this approach is to identify issues earlier on, develop trust with your vendor and reduce the risk of user rejection.
Risk is unavoidable with progress and change. But through effective project management, we reduce risk to the point it is no longer an obstacle to going digital.
3. The need for paper permits
Despite the advantages of digital permits, paper copies may still be required in certain scenarios.
For example, regulatory bodies such as OSHA can mandate a physical copy of a Confined Space permit is posted for all authorized entrants to confirm pre-entry preparations are completed.
For this reason, when choosing your digital PTW solution you should check that it will support printable exports.
Other than that, all other paper-based functionality will be widely covered by the new system.
Electronic and digital signatures
One major concern we frequently encounter is the need for capturing physical signatures in PTW forms.
Signatures are often preferred over checking boxes to avoid the risk of complacency, and because it has more weight than a simple tick in a box.
In that case, digital PTW systems would be far from convenient if you still must print, sign and scan every form.
The truth is, with electronic signature capture, you just don’t have to.
Electronic signature capture is simply the ability to physically sign an electronic form.
In addition, digital signatures are far more secure than paper ones, thanks to the ability to track who, when and where signed the document.
They are also a lot more efficient, cutting the process of printing, signing and scanning.
Taking this into account, digitizing PTW to work on portable devices such as iPads is of great benefit.
Finding a solution that accommodates this functionality will make the switch much more comfortable (even if printing features are still present thanks to Export!)
A quick return on investment
Every organization is different, and this article is not exhaustive of all aspects to consider when going digital with Permit to Work.
However, by minimizing risk and increasing control over the project, you ensure that it quickly pays off once fully deployed.
Although daunting, the switch from paper to digital has more benefits that disadvantages.
Time savings, better traceability, and the ability to analyze PTW data all contribute to proactive risk management for a safer, more efficient workplace.