A Safety Boost

The Permit-to-Work System is Another Excellent Safety Tool
Walter Heneghan
October 18, 2016
By Walter Heneghan
It has been my experience that most helicopter operators approach their safety programs primarily from the perspective of flying operations and maintenance activities. Yet, the pure, health and safety – labour code aspect of our safety programs can sometimes be lacking. One facet of managing risks as part of a safety management system involves contractor safety. What can we do to address this area of risk management and workplace safety?


As transportation companies, we are federally regulated workplaces, subject to federal law.  The Canada Labour Code informs a company’s responsibilities for health and safety.  Section 125(1)(y) states that employers must “ . . . ensure that the activities of every person granted access to the workplace do not endanger the health and safety of employees.”  Quite simply this means that the activities of any contractor working at the hangar or on the premises need to be controlled by the operator. The fuel truck servicing the tank farm, or delivering fuel drums needs to be safety managed.

Contractors also need to be informed of risks or hazards at the workplace so that the employer can show that he has taken “ . . . all reasonable care to ensure that all of the persons granted access to the work place . . . are informed of every known or foreseeable health or safety hazard to which they are likely to be exposed in the work place.”  This is an important section as it makes it clear that the operator or employer has specific legal responsibilities. How often is this being accomplished in your workplace? How do I control or manage this Labour code expectation? I propose that work permits can be used as a very effective tool in order to properly and efficiently manage these fiduciary responsibilities.

So, what is a permit-to-work (PTW) system? In the strictest sense of the definition, it is a formal written system used to control certain types of work that are potentially hazardous. The system will outline the process to be followed and in some instances generate a specific PTW for the contractor. The permit is a document that specifies the task to be done and the precautions to be taken. Typically, PTW permits have involved very hazardous work – high voltage electrical systems, pipes under pressure, etc. But in our industry, there are similar hazardous situations – confined spaces (tailbooms and fuel tanks), compressed gas use, aircraft painting and hydraulic servicing. All of these tasks potentially present a danger to life or a risk of injury and should be controlled

The permit-to-work system (PTW) will encourage the reporting of unsafe work practices and solidify an expectation of open and honest communication within the company and between the employer and the contractor. This enhanced communication can be enforced through documented toolbox talks, daily and task related risk assessments and feedback loops. The process can be easily documented and more than meets the requirements for meeting a company’s legal and moral responsibilities for risk and safety management.

Moreover, by using some form of PTW system, we can ensure that visitors and contractors are properly briefed and advised about the hazards at our facilities and we can assure ourselves that the contractor is properly competent for the work they are conducting. It is a great leap of faith when we hire a contractor but do not conduct any form of due diligence as to their competence.

By documenting procedures for working with contractor, one can set out to minimize the risk of either party endangering the staff of the other. Such a system will show a company’s commitment to safety.

I recently witnessed such a system at work. A contractor had been hired to complete roofing repairs at a hangar. The workers were given a safety orientation and indoctrination to the company’s facilities and a checklist was completed that documented the use and availability of PPE and specific hazards associated with the job. As the work was “at heights,” a working from heights checklist was also completed. The permit-to-work system, with the risk assessment and toolbox talk was then signed by the safety rep and the contractor before the work was completed. It’s a simple system, accepted by both parties with documentation and another great tool in managing hazards and risks in the workplace.


Helicopters safety expert Walter Heneghan was employed by Canadian Helicopters Limited from 2001 until 2014 and worked in a number of positions including a line pilot based in Moosonee, Ont. safety manager for its EMS Division and as vice-president of safety for the company. The opinions expressed in this piece are his alone and are not representative of any company, former or current employer, or this publication.


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