Control of work is about managing work processes to ensure that tasks are carried out safely, states Donal Bourke, manager of Yokogawa digital enterprise solutions. “Yokogawa RAP says that there are three key pillars that make up control of work. The first one being risk assessment – that’s the overall process where you identify your hazards and risk factors that can cause harm and you determine appropriate ways to eliminate the hazard or control the risk when the hazard cannot be eliminated.
“The second key pillar is isolation management. That’s about all of the requirements around isolating all forms of energy at the equipment source, and ensuring that entry to restricted areas is tightly controlled. Finally, permit to work is a documented procedure that authorises certain people to carry out specific work within a specified timeframe. Based on a risk assessment, then, it sets out cautions required for people to work safely. All three should be represented together, and we believe that digital solutions are the easiest way to achieve this,” says Bourke.
“To avoid potential hazards associated with working on equipment, employers must ensure that their employees are trained and certified to work on equipment, and that they can demonstrate suitable competencies to carry out their work. Generally, this information should be available at the time of carrying out the risk assessment and when issuing a permit,” the manager adds.
He goes on to test the method by posing several challenges. Do those carrying out the risk assessment have a clear understanding of the potential hazards and risks associated with the work activities, so that they can sufficiently assess the risks and apply the controls as identified? Turning to the permit-to-work system, are the safety control precautions provided by the system really adequate? And how well does the system prevent failures in communication between various parties? “Linking the risk assessments to permits of work helps eliminate or at least minimise the risk of implementing an inadequate control,” Bourke adds.
Explaining the rationale behind standard work controls is Mark Breese, global head of Yokogawa RAP sales and marketing. “Certificates came about because of accidents that have occurred on a site over a period of time. Someone’s doing some welding work, so they need to have a hot work certificate.”
“A certificate is, in simplest terms, a questionnaire that is based around a risk assessment of what’s happening. You answer the questions and eventually end up with a set of instructions that goes with the work that is required; you attach it with the paperwork to produce part of a job pack. But as plants become higher-hazard and larger and more elements of work are considered, we end up having to have multiple certificates, and having to have these linked as well. Suddenly it starts to get very messy in terms of what we’re trying to achieve.”
And, complains Bourke, change management after a permit has been approved can pose difficulties in a typical paper-based workflow. In that case, the user has to return to the permit office and submit the permit changes. The permit office will then gather the information, review it and reissue the updated permit. Observes Bourke: “This process is typically inefficient; you’re to-ing and fro-ing, it has the potential to introduce human error. Digital systems can reduce this.” He also claims that digitally assessing risk also allows the capture of knowledge about how risk is assessed, and provide greater visibility of safety-related decisions and information.
According to Breese, industrial accident statistics break down into three equal sections by number. First is slips, trips and falls; second is contact with some kind of moving object; third contains other issues that he says are really caused by human error. Breese claims: “60% of all of the accidents that we see are caused by a lack of or inadequate control of work.”
Breese adds: “A poor understanding of risks involved is the primary factor in why people get hurt and sometimes unfortunately killed while they are working.”
One contributing factor that he blames is a trend for an increasing number of controls applied to work at plants, which he argues drives increasing paperwork rather than increased safety, and, perversely, increases the temptation to find a way around the operation’s procedures.
And industry isn’t learning the lessons of the past. He points out that for 100 years, there have been explosions caused by the poor storage of the common fertiliser ammonium nitrate – most recently the 2020 catastrophic explosion in Beirut harbour that killed more than 200 people.
“Why, with all of the evidence of danger, do these things keep happening? Unless we find a more intelligent way to manage the control of work, we are doomed to repeat the sins of the past,” observes Breese.
For example, a high-hazard site in the UK operated by Mitsubishi Chemical, which used to be Lucite, has used the RAP system for some 20 years. One of the main benefits for it, Breese says, is in management of turnarounds. These large items of maintenance work carried out on site feature very large numbers (more than 300) of permits being generated, with the isolations that go with them.
With the RAP system, claims Breese, the plant can manage resources and see peaks where there may be too much work, where there may be a constraint. In the case of confined spaces, to take one particular example, the limiting factor might be the availability of breathing apparatus teams to support workers in the event that something goes wrong. He says that the RAP system has also helped the site reduce the duration of turnarounds.
RAP4 is latest version of Yokogawa’s system for control of work. States Mark Breese: “The RAP system offers layers and modules that add elements of safety to everything that happens at site, from the core permit to work risk assessment, inclusive of lock outs, tag-outs, the management of barriers and isolations, planning for turnarounds when you have unusual work being carried out, the ability to see everything in detail on maps and in reports.” Yokogawa’s proprietary information library ‘RAP Cortex’ holds pre-populated information about hazards, mitigations and controls needed to put in place to ensure safe working. The RAP4 system breaks down work into icons that define the work done, conditions being done and tools and equipment used to do the work.
BOX: This article is based on an 8 February 2022 Yokogawa RAP webinar, “Improve safety culture through the digitalisation of control of work”.