Using biometrics to improve the integrity of permits
Scott Bredin
SCOTT BREDIN
Executive:  Managed Services

Biometric identification of permit signatories introduces even higher levels of integrity to the process; the rugged industrial fingerprint scanners used by IntelliPERMIT on many sites are highly reliable and have been proven over many years in the most challenging environments.

The permit to work (plant clearance) controls any non routine hazardous work in industrial environments, such as maintenance, inspections or other non-routine procedures. The integrity of the permit itself (and therefore the safety of the work) lies in the fact that each person involved has signed to acknowledge their responsibilities at each step of the process. These signatures form part of the controlling document which is in effect a “contract” between the parties responsible for making the plant safe, and those doing the actual work.

Electronic signatures

When working with an computer based system a permit can either be signed electronically (such as with a password), or the permit itself can be printed as a physical document and the signatures subsequently managed in the traditional way. However, having all signatures electronic does has many advantages such as better control, better audit trails and enhanced integrity of the process.

In its simplest form electronic signatures can be a simple username and password/PIN. In an industrial environment when dealing with contractors and temporary workers, assigning usernames and passwords can be cumbersome and is subject to a number of flaws, the most serious of which is people sharing their passwords with each other.

When maintenance teams are lining up for work and the permit is being prepared and issued, any delays with issuing or changing usernames and passwords will cause the work itself to be delayed. Electronic signatures therefore need to be fast, reliable and of high integrity.

Biometric fingerprint scanning

IntelliPERMIT can be implemented with a fingerprint scanning solution that addresses all of the problems associated with traditional username/passwords. The biometric process has been proven since 2005, is efficient, reliable and secure and can handle millions of signatures every year.

Biometric Scan

The combination of IntelliPERMIT and fingerprint scanning allows for very rapid processing of permits. This has proven to be a major productivity improvement in the control room (or the permit office) during peak periods. At the same time all of the problems associated with sharing of passwords and password privacy in such environments have been solved.

The IntelliPERMIT safety compliance software is also flexible enough to be integrated to an existing Biometric system if you already have one. If such a system does not yet exist we recommend supplying the scanners together with IntelliPERMIT as part of the implementation project. The IntelliPERMIT recommended scanners have been specifically designed and tested for heavy duty industrial application and have been proven over many years to operate well in the toughest industrial environments.

Using scanners in the permit office

Contractors and temporary personnel can quickly have their fingerprints registered by the system when they report on site for work. This registration can take place in the control room or permit office and can be done by any of the authorized persons without special training or skills. This registration is usually done during the process of preparing or issuing the first permit.

A major advantage of the biometric approach is that users don’t then need to remember passwords. A fingerprint is a very reliable and secure method of identification. Should there be a technical issue (for example when a specific fingerprint won’t scan due to scarring or smudging of the fingertip by grease or other) then Intellipermit has an override mechanism whereby an authorized person can manually verify the identity of the person. In practice we have found that most fingerprints do scan reliably and these exceptions are few and far between.

Alternative techniques

Fingerprint scanning is of course not a prerequisite for a functioning electronic permit system. Many customers control the IntelliPERMIT process with username/password combinations because this best suits their specific environment.

There are other alternatives to passwords or fingerprint scanning, for example using site access cards to sign permit transactions. When site access cards are used there are other advantages. For example we have found that at the end of the day contractors sometimes leave site without signing off their permits. This does create a safety risk, in that the production team might miss vital information and cannot restore that plant section back to production in a controlled manner. When site access control is integrated to the permit then contractors can be prevented from leaving at the turnstiles until all the necessary steps have been taken to properly sign off the work.

Conclusion

In summary, biometrics is a very valuable enhancement to an electronic permit to work system. It improves the overall integrity of the safety process and improves compliance. It also has significant productivity gains over other techniques such as usernames and passwords. Fingerprint scanning can either be implemented at the outset, or can be retrofitted to an existing IntelliPERMIT system. The IntelliPERMIT team at Adapt IT are well versed in the alternatives and can of course be contacted for further information and to discuss your specific requirements.

 

Biometric fingerprint authentication refers to a method where a scanned image of a fingerprint is matched to a master image held on file.  It is a highly accurate and reliable method of verifying the identity of the person, and used in many electronic systems requiring high integrity authentication of individuals.

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IntelliPERMIT’s industrial biometric fingerprint scanners by Sagem scan millions of fingerprints every year to reliably control permits to work.
HENRY BOSHOFF, PRODUCT MANAGER