How IntelliPERMIT reduces risk during simultaneous operations (SIMOPS)

Industrial plants need to be maintained.   Sometimes the whole plant can be shut down and made safe,  but it is more common that part of the plant is shut down so that the impact on overall production is minimised.

During any section shutdown there is the opportunity cost of lost production and it is very important that work crews do the necessary maintenance work efficiently and speedily.

This pressure to get the work done quickly can result in a concentration of work in the same area which in turn creates problems relating to coordination, contention for resources and so on.   These workgroup interactions can lead to an increased safety risk unless managed carefully.

What is Simultaneous Operations? 

Simultaneous operations (referred to in the industry as “SIMOPS”) refers to a situation where two or more potentially conflicting activities are being executed simultaneously and in close proximity to one another.   Safety is affected because the interactions between the jobs are not fully understood. Each job considered in isolation might be perfectly safe,  but the combination might be extremely dangerous. If the risks resulting from these interactions are not identified then there might not be any precautions in place to prevent safety incidents. 

SIMOPS is not only constrained to shutdowns. These workgroup interactions can occur at any time people do work in the same area of the plant.  

Sometimes the increased safety risk does not necessarily relate to the physical proximity of the working parties;  for example SIMOPS can also be a factor when work on a common system is taking place. A typical scenario is work taking place on a high pressure steam header system that is connected to several parts of the operating plant. 

During plant maintenance a working party might move to a position that is in close proximity to another working party.   It can easily happen that neither party is aware of the hazards related to the other activity because their view is obstructed. An example might be a crane that is lifting heavy equipment over a plant area in which people are working. Or work at heights taking place above other people working at a lower level.

SIMOPS can add to the risk of accidents during shutdowns and commissioning when many disciplines such as construction, start-up and commissioning are working in close proximity.

Simops Work Group Interactions

Here Permit to Work PTW A is interacting with PTW B. The additional risk occurs when a working on a common area or equipment, relying on a common isolated system, performing work of the same type (such as confined space entries) and so on.

The importance of the permit to work process

The permit to work process is an important tool to manage the risks relating to work in hazardous environments.   A key output of the process is the identification and close management of situations where multiple work crews may interact.  A permit to work system should therefore be  designed to proactively help identify SIMOPS related hazards.

A well designed permit to work system will involve identification of  concurrent activities associated with SIMOPS, the hazards that arise from these,  an assessment of the risks and the identification of precautions (or control measures) that are needed to reduce these risks.

1. Enhancing field communications

The permit  to work system is an important communication tool that can make sure that people in the field are aware of the risks relating to adjacent work. This is especially important in large, complex environments where work may be taking place under the authority of a number of different people, unaware of the broader operational situation, and any specific details of other jobs that have been authorised in the same time frame.

2. Taking care of common isolations

A well designed permit system will also coordinate the management of isolations. In the context of SIMOPS,  any isolation that affects common systems where more than one work party could be involved must be properly managed and coordinated across multiple jobs in line with the companies isolation procedures.

3. Clarifying lines of responsibility

Finally a well designed permit system will ensure that the lines of responsibility are clear between the issuing party, the authorizers and the persons responsible for work,  including those responsible for work in adjacent work and other jobs in close proximity.

An example area display showing work taking place across the plant

The mock-up below shows how a system like IntelliPERMIT highlights work taking place across the plant. This example is a top down “plan view”, it is equally possible to build a three dimensional model of the plant as the basis. The dark blue dots represent work taking place – in this instance the time horizon is set to Wednesday.

By moving the time horizon “slider” at the bottom, current and future planned work can be graphically represented. This helps show where potential conflicts might occur. By selecting the relevant units and plant area it is also possible to identify work taking place simultaneously on a common system. By clicking on the blue dot, essential details of the permit can be seen, in this example permit number 15990 is being shown in more detail.

Such a display can be displayed prominently in the plant where the jobs are being planned and permits are coordinated.

Simops Example Display
An example SIMOPS area display showing the location of work on the plant

How IntelliPERMIT reduces the risks associated with SIMOPS

IntelliPERMIT has been designed to support SIMOPS and work group interactions in the following ways:

Increased visibility

  • All permits in the same plant area are automatically cross referenced. This simply acts as an alert to the holder of a permit that other tasks are scheduled to happen in the same area at the same time.
  • The area display allows for visualisation of all work taking place under the control of a permit.  This view allows all participants to see where other activities many be taking place in close proximity to their place of work. This display can be setup on large, unattended screens in high traffic areas improving overall situational awareness of work in progress.
  • Permits for planned work can also be managed through IntelliPERMIT. By simply advancing the planning horizon into the future the system can graphically show those jobs which will be in close proximity.

Active controls and business rules logic

  • Active controls in IntelliPERMIT can provide a scale of responses to specific situations. These scenarios are managed by the business rules engine in IntelliPERMIT that implements a multi-dimensional matrix of permitted operations:
    • For example, specific areas of a plant may have an elevated risk of work crews interacting with those on floors above or below. In these situations, the system may either place a complete hold on authorisation of conflicting work; or invoke a communication process which requires each work party to first endorse each other’s permits and indicating how the risk of work group interaction is to be mitigated.
    • IntelliPERMIT’s capability extends to flagging combinations of situations such as hot work taking place in in an area adjacent to another task involving the use of flammable solvents: even though the hazards inherent with these jobs may have been adequately addressed in isolation the combination can be potentially catastrophic unless identified and properly managed.
    • Similar challenges apply right down to the level of isolation points: one procedure may require a drain valve to be locked closed; another that it be locked open. IntelliPERMIT provides tools to flag these situations well ahead of a shutdown so that the schedule can be adjusted to remove the clash.
    • As with all IntelliPERMIT business rules, there is complete flexibility over how the system can be configured to respond and whether or not a supervisor is required to sign off on any exceptions before work can proceed.

Conclusion

SIMOPS and work group interactions during shutdowns and routine operations can result in an increased risk of safety incidents.

The permit to work process is where “the rubber hits the road” and the best tool with which any increased risk associated with SIMOPS can be identified and compensating controls (precautions) implemented.

The permit to work process further ensures communication takes place, not only between members of a working party on a specific job, but also between the coordinators of jobs where there are interactions.

IntelliPERMIT has a very flexible rules engine that is capable of flagging work group interactions and identifying conflicting precautionary measures between jobs.

IntelliPERMIT enhances the visibility of SIMOPS through graphical displays,  linked to permits currently in execution as well as planned work about to take place.

The result is a reduced risk of incidents and a safer plant environment.

 

For more information on how we improve safety during SIMOPS and workgroup interactions,  as well as details of customers benefitting from these systems please contact the IntelliPERMIT team at Adapt IT.

Picture of Lungelo Majozi
Lungelo Majozi
Lungelo, with over 14 years of experience in the IT industry and just over a decade in manufacturing technology, joined IntelliPERMIT as a specialist MS SQL and SSRS developer. Lungelo is currently a part of the team implementing and supporting IntelliPERMIT globally, focusing on Australia.

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