EHS Management, Technology and Innovation

SIF Prevention with Digitized Permit to Work Solutions

For those new to the term, SIF stands for Serious Injuries and Fatalities, otherwise defined as ‘life-threatening, life-altering or fatal events’ that can occur during normal work.

Beyond the human toll of these events, SIFs can wreak a devastating impact on compliance risk and corporate liability, poison workforce culture, reduce productivity, erode profitability, and even paralyze an organization’s ability to raise growth capital or attract the best talent.  

So, what can we do to reduce the threat that SIFs pose to our people and our businesses?

In this article, we’ll cover what SIFs are and how to prevent them, the relationship between SIF prevention and Permit to Work (PTW), how PTW programs can help reduce SIF potential, and the benefits of digitizing PTW programs through SaaS software.

The Skinny on SIFs

For years, organizations have focused their prevention efforts on reducing the number of minor incidents at the workplace in hopes for a corresponding drop in the number of more severe events. However, we’ve come to learn that the conditions that result in a SIF are quite different from the conditions that result in less severe outcomes.

These conditions are called SIF precursors – situations involving high-risk work where a severe or fatal outcome is likely to occur because control measures necessary to protect individuals from those outcomes are either absent, ineffective, or not followed.

For example, an individual working 20-30 feet above ground without proper fall protection would be considered a SIF precursor since, if they were to fall, the absence of the control (fall arrest) means the outcome would almost certainly be catastrophic.

Preventing SIFs with Permit to Work

Many high-risk situations that could contribute to a SIF precursor are also governed by permit to work regulations. Permit to work (PTW) is a management system process used to review, authorize, and control the performance of high-risk work.

Specific high-risk tasks require a permit that grants workers permission to conduct the activity. PTW programs also define the control measures that must be followed before, during, and after the work to reduce the risk of serious harm.

PTW programs incorporate many of the same principles needed to successfully prevent SIFs. Therefore, building a more robust PTW program can be an effective step toward reducing the risk of severe or fatal events in our workplaces. But how do we do that?

Top Permit to Work Challenges

PTW programs are extremely effective at preventing SIFs, however, many PTW programs are plagued with operational constraints due to paper-based permitting that undermine their effectiveness.

Common permit to work challenges:

  1. High administrative effortPaper-based permitting systems often create heavy administrative burdens that compromise operational efficiency and worker compliance.
  2. Process bottlenecks Front-line workers often face long wait-times for permits to be authorized, which increases the chances that workers will start without authorization.
  3. Lack of PTW oversight Organizations using paper-based permits struggle to monitor the status of tasks in real-time, making it difficult to detect missing or ineffective controls that increase the risk of SIFs.
  4. Program visibility Heavy reliance on paper-based PTW programs means difficulty in aggregating and analyzing PTW data at scale, which minimizes visibility into overall performance.


Solving Permit to Work Challenges with Software

By digitizing PTW programs, organizations can begin to counteract many of these common challenges with:

  1. Workflow optimization & automation Digital tools enable organizations to tailor PTW workflows to their specific needs, streamline data collection, encourage a more efficient permit request & approval process, and increase employee engagement in task planning and risk management.
  2. Mobile accessibility With mobile accessibility, workers will have anywhere, anytime access to the tools and information they need to complete permit requests efficiently.
  3. Enhanced real-time status visibilityMany PTW solutions enable users to monitor multiple permits on digital map layouts, enabling real-time monitoring of work-in-progress, and giving permit issuers better visibility.
  4. Data visualization Integrated advanced business intelligence and analytics features make it easier for organizations to monitor the overall health of PTW programs, easily reveal insights, and provide appropriate attention to SIF exposure that is not effectively controlled.

Final Thoughts

While occupational injury rates have been steadily falling for over two decades, the rate of SIFs has remained stubbornly stagnant. Digitization allows for more reliable processes, increased employee engagement, and peace of mind that critical controls are in place and operating effectively.

Interested in reducing SIF potential? Then digitizing your Permit to Work program might be the next best place to start!


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