How can Electronic Systems Improve Work Safety?

by Martin Seagroatt
Engica Technology Systems International  – Acquired by the Prometheus Group


E-Permit systems have seen rapid advancement in recent years and are currently gaining increasing attention in the global oil industry. At this point the question many people are asking is: Why use a computerized system for safety management, and what are the benefits?

Engica Technology is a specialist supplier of electronic safe systems of work with over 20 years experience in safety and workflow management for major oil and gas clients globally. This short article will outline some of our experiences of the practical issues and
benefits relating to e-safety management technology, and examines what is involved in the
adoption and implementation of an electronic safety system.

Rather than seeing electronic systems as a revolutionary change in the way the safety process is carried out, a more accurate perspective is that computerized safety management is more of an evolution in methodology, and a good system will support and streamline the current process rather than replace it with a new one.

With rising oil and gas prices there is considerable pressure to carry out maintenance tasks quickly and maintain production levels. However, most oil companies, safety professionals and senior operations staff, would rather not have a serious incident on their platform or processing plant because of the human consequences, and also financial cost of accidents, not to mention the negative effect on the company’s worldwide reputation.

In addition to this, the last thing any safety manager wants is for workers to switch onto auto pilot and become complacent, which can easily occur with repetitive maintenance tasks that need to be completed quickly. The result can be careless safety assessments and in the worst case scenario a major accident. Therefore the optimum situation is one in which it’s possible to complete the repetitive paperwork aspect of the safety process in a minimal amount of time without compromising safety. This is where an electronic system comes in, and in fact a good system will also strengthen the safety process with cross checks which guide users through the correct sequence of procedures and authorisations. The result is that more time can be spent on high value activities with an improvement in control over safety issues.

The Drive

Aligned with the factors discussed above, there is currently a major drive among companies in the energy sector to standardize safety procedures across their assets. Energy operators have a number of issues to handle influenced by international operation and rapid ownership and equity changes. The effects of global expansion, aging workforce, regional skills shortfalls, increased staff mobility, and contract outsourcing to mention a few, all bring a strain on safety knowledge and local practice. These effects must be counterbalanced with techniques not only to maintain levels of safety but to strive to improve them.

While companies require a single standard corporate safety system, they also want a system that is theirs, using their own documents and processes and one that can meet the varied needs of different business units. Engica’s approach is not to assume that a single out of the box solution with, say, preset Permits and workflow will satisfy all organizations. It is recognized that radical changes to fit a software solution in many cases could cause more problems than solutions. Staff in general are used to their existing paper based systems that have been derived over time within their organization. What is beneficial in many cases is a step enhancement to strengthen the process rather than radical change, and a flexible system is essential to support this. It is the application of current or slightly enhanced Permit and certificate forms and safety processes within a new electronic system that will gain the acceptance of users. One should not ignore that changing practices takes time. The sensible approach is a step by step philosophy to accumulate a major step change.

Using Technology

The next thing to ask is what can technology do to help with various aspects of the safety management process?

The Q4 Safety system for example, combines all of the core elements of work flow, hazard mitigation and Permit procedural methods into a unified process supported with relational intelligence. The safety controls and execution activities are supplemented with intrinsically safe cross check methods to add real value in improving the safety process in its preparation, execution and return to service phases. The output is a safety work pack detailing the procedures and confirmation checks to support safe work.

Knowledge Based Processing: Knowledge based processing of safety information such as Risk Assessments and plant isolations, allied with the capture of lessons learned following work tasks provide safety engineers with powerful tools to process Permits and certificates in an informed and highly integrated manner.

Rule & Role Based: A rule and role based flow process can be applied to the Q4 Safety system; configured to each Permit or certificate type with authorization sign-offs. Each process automatically generates an electronic audit trail, an approach in principle to strengthen the safety checks and awareness of key personnel. The managed flow of say a toolbox or pre-work check for example can be enforced by virtue of a signatory confirming its physical performance and risk acceptability. Work handover due to shift change, often a time that requires particular care with respect to safety issues can be supported in a similar manner.

Isolation Management: Another important element of work safety that deserves special attention is the isolation of equipment to ensure work can be carried out safely. This process is managed by different companies and industries in different ways. A variation of lockout methods such as keysafes/lockboxes and lockbars are employed to ensure control over isolation and de-isolation, as well as the method most widely used offshore of tagging isolation points. These systems vary considerably in complexity, and because of this Q4 Safety has the capability to support each of the methods discussed. This ranges from the printing of isolation lists and tags through to visibility of shared isolation points, cross locks and key cascades, and graphical key safe planning.

Integration: Q4’s system architecture also allows integration with an existing work management system to form a seamless environment, for example, work orders and work packs (sometimes known as modules) are presented to the Permit and Risk Assessment process electronically, bringing all of the elements into a unified process. This provides powerfully synchronized workflow and safety management and unlocks maximum business benefit from close integration between systems. Interfaces with other client software such as document management systems can also be created, allowing the attachment of electronic documents including P&ID diagrams, work procedures, and photographs to safety documents.

Real Time Dashboard: Finally the Q4 “Real Time Dashboard” provides browser based access to Permit status from anywhere on the network. The Dashboard uses maps of the facility to allow the user to navigate around views of the platform or plant. Each view displays all active Permits and Isolation Certificates, along with any active Risk Assessments that have no associated Permit/certificate. Expired documents are shown as flashing and each document type has its own customizable icon and color.

Practical Issues

Speed of Use: Even the most functionally rich system if tediously slow will result in operators finding ways of bypassing the system. After all, a good system is about providing information in order to give more time to the consideration of the safety issues, Risk Assessment and precautions relating to the tasks at hand, not just to act as an executive safeguard to litigation. The measure should be at least equal if not quicker than manual methods.

Natural Use: Systems designed for rocket scientists are only good for rocket scientists. This does not mean that a bit of training is not required, but it does mean that the system should provide an intuitive and consistent interface at each stage or phase of the safety assessment or Permit assembly. Q4 systems have been developed by standing over the shoulders of safety engineers and watching experienced and novice users use the system many times to refine its interface. We do not accept incoherency blaming it on technology shortfalls. This has lead to the development of on screen Permits and forms that accurately reflect existing paper Permits or isolation certificates. The simulation of paper methods with data enhancing reflect natural processing rather than separate element screens. We call this WYSIWYG “what you see is what you get”.

Other factors come to bear where certain types of repetitive work require processing. Processing that takes excessive time will inevitability be bypassed by staff like it or not. This situation has to be avoided and can be accomplished with features such as a Risk Assessment library and process route. This still ensures a Risk Assessment and signoff process but provides an effectively streamlined method for this type of work.

Adoption and Implementation

Engica have built up an extensive knowledge base of the key issues relating to the adoption and implementation of safety systems through the delivery of projects for major operators such as Chevron Texaco, BP, Marathon Oil, Kerr McGee, and Qatargas. This expertise in ensuring installations are rolled out on time and within budget has often been in challenging locations such as the South China Sea, offshore Angola, and the North Sea. Experience has also been gained through working in a diverse range of operating environments, encompassing both offshore and onshore facilities such as platforms, FPSOs, LNG plants, and refineries.

The important thing to note is that an innovative approach to projects is vital. This ensures that companies realize the core improvements in efficiency and increased adherence to safety best practice that are an essential element in today’s constantly evolving industry. Safety is no doubt one of the top priorities to operators and introducing a step improvement change to safety methods needs a plan, resource and a supplier with the necessary expertise.

An electronic system can be installed and configured quite quickly onto an organization’s network. A summary of elements associated with an electronic system configuration are shown below.

  • Configuration of Screen and Hardcopy Permit and Certificate Forms along with State Flow Logic
  • Entry of Authorization personnel and permissions
  • Collation of Plant Isolation Information
  • Collation of Risk Assessment Information
  • Configuration of Site Drawing for Digital Dashboard
  • Integration with existing and other Work Management Systems

It is the definition and the adoption program that need special attention. As one might imagine, the definition stage presents a series of challenges to get agreement if methods are going to be improved over the existing process rather than merely replicating a current system setup. For the offshore oil and gas industry scheduling project team discussions should be factored into the plan. Always put in place a project manager with the authority level to facilitate and make decisions. Allocate realistic timescales but with hard target milestones. All pretty obvious but needless to say are the reasons why many software systems get delayed. Engica help this process with expert project managers recruited from the industries we work in.


Quality training is fundamental to the use of a safety management system. Central to the Q4 Safety system are a series of training packages to get the system working effectively for all staff and contract personnel and instil confidence in the system. In addition, purpose built e-learning courses can be designed as part of the overall project. The e-learning courses are tailored around the necessary level of knowledge each user group’s needs.

Here are some aspects that pertain to offshore sites

  • Project Management
  • Awareness and Communication Campaign
  • Purpose Built E-Training Adoption Package
  • Procedure Manuals
  • Super User and Administration System Training
  • Mass Staff Training
  • Offshore Handholding


International installations with regard to native language operators such as China and Kazakhstan have to be borne in mind. The Q4 Safety system has been purposely designed for multi-lingual deployment and has the ability to run dual language versions simultaneously.


The age of electronic safe systems of work is taking shape and there are a number of further techniques not covered in this short article that can also assist a safety engineer. The next decade will see substantial improvements as more companies adopt electronic methodologies and new developments evolve to improve industry best practice.

About the Author:
Martin Seagroatt is an electronic Permit to Work and Safety advisor with Engica Technology.

Click here to read more about the electronic permit process and how it’s impacting the industry. 

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