Over the next 10 weeks or so, we will be posting one of the 10 myths of electronic permit to work systems. These are a collection of myths based on our experiences and encounters during product demonstrations and projects over the years.
We decided to write this article to expand on a popular LinkedIn discussion that first appeared at http://www.linkedin.com/grp/post/1954881-5994719885219880961.
This article is authored by Peter Kingwill, Safe Work Consultant and Sage Technology Company Director.
Over the years I’ve met with many organisations considering the shift from paper based PTW system to an electronic PTW system. On many occasions I’ve been asked the question “can the product align with our procedures”? This really means “we can’t/won’t change our procedures”. OK I get it, yes it can be hard work to change the procedures in an organisation, however I’d like to challenge this myth.
The myth is driven by several factors including how long it took to get them to this stage in the first place, the impact of any change and the retraining costs associated with the change. It is almost guaranteed there will be at least one person who wrote the PTW procedure who will protect it with their life from anyone who dares suggest it be changed! As you can guess by now I don’t subscribe to the view that procedures can’t be changed. Let me illustrate why I think they can be changed.
New tools require new procedures
The Supermarine Spitfire was one of the most famous aircraft of World War II and was attributed to winning many battles in the sky. The operating manual for the Spitfire was totally relevant to the operation of the aircraft but I wouldn’t use it to fly a F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter. In other words, as we make use of new and improved technology, we need to update the procedures to be relevant and to take advantage of the new capabilities available.
Additionally, the switch from paper to electronic tools highlights the fact that many procedures are really a detailed “how to fill out the form” instruction and how to cross reference permit documents, none of which are required when using an electronic system. If we are to take advantage of the benefits of new electronic tools, then we must change the procedures to reflect the new operating environment.
Continuous learning requires change
The rate of change today is greater than it has been throughout history, the accumulation and sharing of knowledge is enabling rapid development of the way we carry out a huge range of activities. We also learn from incidents and near misses that often identify inadequacies in current practices. As we learn more, we identify better ways to do the same things and if we are to take advantage of these, we need to update (you guessed it) our procedures.
Regulations and standards change
In complex or high risk facilities, the procedures will reflect the requirements of any legislated standards or regulations the site must comply with. These do not remain static and will change from time to time requiring changes to the PTW procedures.
I think by now you probably know what I think about this myth but, just to be clear, if you want to get the best value from an ePTW or iSSoW system then the procedures will need to change. Typically, we expect to see a simplification and reduction in the size of the procedures; in the case of large multi-site project from 5,000 pages to less than 100. The benefits are multi-fold in reducing cost, simplification, improving efficiency and even reducing effect maintaining documentation.
In summary, an ePTW system can help simplify and improve your procedures, but it does require some willingness to accept change. Busted?
I hear this one a lot and it goes along the lines of “we’ll just finish doing an update to our procedures, settle them in and then we’ll look at ePTW”. On the surface it sounds quite reasonable, but dig a little deeper and it doesn’t stack up very well. Let me elaborate on the problems with this approach.
Locking in site specific practices
The process of revising an existing procedure is a tried and true response to an incident(s) or other changes. The changes are done in the context of the existing procedure and the specific site practices targeted for improvement. Without a doubt, the changes will increase the complexity and size of the PTW procedures and further lock in “our” way of doing PTW. Unfortunately, the more the PTW procedures reflect very company-specific processes, and the less industry standard they are, the more work an ePTW vendor needs to do to configure their product to meet these specific company needs. That is, it takes longer and costs more.
Missing opportunities to adopt best practice ideas
ePTW vendors generally work across multiple sectors and different types of sites giving them extensive knowledge of the PTW subject area. In other words, an internal review of the PTW procedures without an external contributor is missing the opportunity to improve by incorporating industry best practice.
Difference between manual procedures and ePTW
In one of my previous myths, I described the difficulties in making changes to PTW procedures. To reiterate, there is a fundamental difference in writing the procedure for a manual PTW system versus and ePTW system. They are most often shorter, become less of a “how to fill out the form” instruction, focus on principles and don’t need to detail every business rule provided by the technology.
Okay, say you go about the job of making revisions to the PTW procedure. Once you have it approved, developed the training update, rolled the training out to your staff and contractors, go live, run some audits to check compliance, do some follow up training then you can pat yourself on the back right? Then a year or two down the track you can look at the ePTW and guess what? You have to do all the same stuff again as well as the technology implementation for ePTW. Efficient use of the companies resources?
Extending on the previous comment the change process is expensive. In fact, it is usually more expensive than the actual spend on the ePTW solution itself. So paying for the change management process twice does not make a whole lot of financial sense.
There are lots of reasons (excuses) why companies keep revising the PTW procedures and they are often disappointed with the outcome. Personnel are known to be resistant to change and keep doing things the way they always have. Strangely, it seems people ultimately accept a significant step change rather than a continuous stream of incremental changes. We all know revision 14 of the procedure was better than revision 13, right?
So if you find yourself needing to revise the PTW procedure and are thinking of changing to an ePTW system, give some serious thought to doing both at the same time and save yourself a lot of angst and expense.
The myth goes that ePTW solutions are expensive and management won’t pay for it so we won’t bother looking. There are certainly costs associated with implementing an ePTW/Safe Work System. These include licensing costs; hardware, implementation services and training just like there are for any information technology project. The costs of course are only one side of the equation the more important question is “how much will it save us?”
Unfortunately everyone is highly skilled in asking the cost question but not so on the savings/benefits question. In my paper on the “Calculated benefits of ePTW” I go into some detail in building the picture of the potential savings following the usual return on investment (ROI) process. What I do want to focus on in this myth is “what is it costing you now?” In my experience, rarely do people look at, let alone calculate, the current costs of a business function or process, particularly in this space. So, they have no idea of the costs they are carrying in their everyday PTW operations.
At a very basic level these include:
I could easily go on expanding the list but hopefully you get my drift. Once you can identify the real cost of the status quo you’re half way there. Identification of the projected future costs using an ePTW tool allows the savings to be defined, calculated and used in the ROI.
The ROI may also include non-tangible benefits related to avoided costs such as less incidents, investigations, injuries, regulatory fines, civil action, production loss etc.
So, before dismissing ePTW because you may think it costs too much ask the question about the true cost doing things now and the possible savings. Management will nearly always entertain ideas on improving efficiency and saving money. Hopefully this myth is busted but I’ll leave that to you to decide. Have a great weekend.
OK I get it, we’re all really busy and as many companies downsize their workforce, there is more and more work to do by less and less people. However, I think people forget about the effort and cost of the status quo. Recently I was speaking with a shift supervisor who had been a user of our system, but had moved to a new organisation that had a paper based permit and lock system. He was lamenting the fact that now he had to spend hours hand writing isolation tags, where before he clicked a button and picked them up from the printer. Is this a productive use of time by an expensive resource?
We see this time and time again people planning the isolations from first principles and hand writing the isolation list, tags and permits. This ties up lots of people for hours and hours and it’s repeated over and over.
Yes, there is work in preparing data and information to load into an ePTW system but, once done that’s when the real payback starts. After setting up the core plant and isolation data, no-one needs to re-enter that data again. This significantly improves productivity and makes it much faster to plan and implement an isolation or permit.
My response to this myth is that you can keep doing things the way they’ve always been done or you can invest an initial amount of effort to reap future savings. I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying ‘too busy fighting alligators to find time to drain the swamp’….stop making excuses and get on with it! Busted!