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Permits-to-work and safety culture

20 July 2018

Changing employee attitudes to health and safety is an ongoing challenge for high hazard industries, with many organisations still far from achieving a positive and proactive culture in this area. In this article, Simon Olliff of Banyard Solutions looks at the steps required to introduce an effective health and safety culture and the positive role that an automated permits-to-work system can play in achieving this.

Getting the safety culture right will lead to a reduction in incidents, accidents and near misses. With fewer accidents, there will also be fewer absences, compensation payouts and reputational damage. This should also improve worker productivity and likely, job satisfaction. 

Developing and embedding a safety approach starts with changing the whole attitude of a company, ensuring the topic is an integral part of every aspect of the business.

Leadership comes from the top

Health and safety professionals should consider the impact of a health and safety culture on the general business strategy and explain the tangible benefits of change to the most senior people in the business. CEO support is not enough to create a proper health and safety culture in an organisation. All the leaders must lead from the front, providing the vision for the rest of the team.

Active participation is key. The strategy needs to go to the boardroom to involve every member. This may require additional health and safety training to educate individuals on the risks the wider workforce faces and how they can be mitigated.  The health and safety vision and plan of the company should then be communicated to every employee. Each person should understand they have a responsibility for health and safety and the level of priority it now has in the company. This means reporting all incidents and near misses to learn how the company can improve. It also includes identifying areas of weakness before an incident or near miss occurs to prevent it from happening in the future. Health and safety must become a strategic issue rather than an operational one.

Communication and employee involvement

In a company with a positive and effective health and safety culture, communication happens at all levels and in all directions. Encourage this.  Questions about health and safety and discussions about related issues should be completely normal throughout every department and job role in the company. This includes employees discussing health and safety issues with each other as well as communications flowing through structured lines of responsibility.

Employees should have the confidence to speak up to a colleague when they see a potential risk.

Employees must see action being taken and feel as though they are genuinely involved. By including staff risk assessments, the drafting of policies, the review of policies, conducting workshops, etc. you will encourage their participation. Communication, motivation, and encouraging employee involvement is ongoing and should be something an organisation seeks to continuously improve.

Pitfalls to Avoid

A good health and safety culture is not about box-ticking, ensuring regulatory compliance, or keeping insurance premiums low. Things like this can be part of – or the result of – a good health and safety culture, but they will not, on their own, bring about the change you need.

Avoid creating a blame culture in the company. Attributing responsibility might be appropriate in some situations, but a blame culture creates fear which can prevent people from reporting incidents. This can make the statistics of the company look good, but there is no learning and improvements are difficult to make.  This could lead to more serious incidents that could have been prevented if proper learning had taken place from earlier unreported incidents.

It is better to have an open health and safety culture where the first objective is to make people safe. Near misses and minor accidents should be treated as a learning tool that the business can use to make changes and improve.


Implementing systems and solutions that will help streamline production, improve health and safety processes and performance will in turn boost efficiency and create a more positive environment. Many companies have defined processes, traditionally implemented through paper-based systems, but this process can be disjointed and slow, leading to corner-cutting and potentially increasing the risk of incidents occurring.

Permits-to-work have existed for decades and form an important means of fulfilling an organisation’s general duty to ensure the health and safety of employees under section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Historically implemented as paper documents, permits-to-work have increasingly become web-based over the past 15 years.

The latest systems imitate organisations’ existing permit-to-work regimes and automate the process, enabling online competence checks, scenario management, communication, clash checks and documentation, and will raise alerts when issues need to be resolved for work to proceed.

The increased requirement for monitoring in high hazard industries makes electronic permit-to-work systems highly advantageous to many companies as they manage work and risk, and deliver compliance. They are significantly faster and easier to use than paper-based systems and reduce management time when dealing with incidents, allowing for easy processing and quick resolution.

Introduced with experienced partners, electronic permit-to-work systems can be a fundamental part of creating an effective health and safety culture within an organisation.

About the author

Simon Olliff is Managing Director of Banyard Solutions, the specialist in web-based Permit-to-Work solutions. He has a solid understanding of the new technologies needed to achieve higher levels of safety performance.

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