Case study Energy

Workflow automation in a safety-critical environment

Automation is an important tool to reduce the chances of human error, and so increase safety, whilst saving time for senior managers

In a safety critical environment it is vital that all the risks are carefully considered and reviewed. Waterstons developed a system to support this process to improve safety, provide an audit capability and remove potential human error through automation

Paper based safety permits

Every day, at each of Shell’s sites across Europe, contractors carry out tasks as diverse as grass cutting, tank maintenance and repair work.

Regulations dictate that each is issued with a signed permit detailing the nature, location and safety impact of the work. Copies must be distributed to all concerned parties and archived upon completion.

At Shell’s Haven refinery in Coryton, Essex, upwards of 200 permits are signed off by the site manager each week. Shell used a paper-based process, with lengthy permits and forms printed and completed by hand prior to approval.

Whilst this approach met regulations and captured all required data, productivity of key members of terminal staff could be impacted by the time taken, and the process carried safety and legal implications. With no centralised portal to monitor activity on site, it was difficult to ensure the safety and security of the site.

Shell required a semi-automated, web-based system for handling the permit workflow, from creation and approval to issue, expiry and archiving.

The business case

The major drivers behind the project were to improve efficiency of the process, thereby improving productivity of senior staff, and to reduce security and health and safety risks posed to Shell by the scope for human error.

Collaboration between Shell and its contractors would also be improved, by allowing them to pre-fill some information on the permits before attending site.

A central management portal and activity map showing the location of permits on the site would allow Shell employees to monitor permit activity from a single location, simplifying communication between parties and reducing risk further by reducing time taken to react should an emergency, such as a site evacuation, be required.

Additionally, with a bespoke solution for their requirements, Shell would be able to rapidly deploy the permit system and realise these benefits at other sites across Europe, thereby maximising the return on their investment.

To minimise change management issues, and ensure the success of the project; as well as for regulatory reasons, the existing format of the permit content was preserved, and the new system had to meet all regulatory requirements regarding sign-off, archiving of completed work and distribution of copies.

Web-based automation

Waterstons developed an online application for management of the entire permit workflow, using ASP .NET MVC4, with a SQL Server 2012 database.

Again to ensure usability and maximise familiarity, the permit forms were rendered faithfully to the previous paper versions .

The manual workflow was mirrored closely within an intuitive interface. Permits are created in the system, with the option to associate task-specific forms, send content via email for contractors to complete, and select the location for the work on a site map.

The permit workflow is managed in a simple dashboard, which includes options to add forms, send forms to contractors, and update the permit status.

The application allows a Site Administrator to log in and approve permits or request changes. To preserve integrity, permits cannot be edited once they have been submitted for approval.

Permits can be printed and physically signed off by the site manager. This approach leveraged technology to reduce the workload on site operators and engendered an improvement in safety.

Once a permit is issued, the location of the work is displayed on an activity map. Waterstons configured this display to run on a large screen in the site control room, allowing real-time monitoring of the site at a glance. Coloured flags indicate the type of work at each location, and the associated contractor is listed for quick reference.

At the end of each day, all permits must be returned, at which point they are removed from the activity map. The activity map can thus be used to increase confidence that the site is clear at the end of the day and there are no outstanding safety risks.

The application includes a search function to allow administrators and operators to quickly navigate permits, for example by generating a list of all permits awaiting approval.

The application includes an archiving feature for expired permits. Completed permits are scanned and sent to an email address. An automated job on the live server then imports these documents for archiving.

Permits are removed from storage after a statutory period. This enables Shell to meet regulatory requirements regarding preservation of records.

The application is hosted by Waterstons, which represented a simple and manageable solution for Shell. Waterstons’ Managed Services team created a dedicated server for the live solution and database.

The new Permit to Work system developed by Waterstons sits perfectly within the existing framework supplied by Shell Supply and Distribution. This new tool has accelerated the permit process, whilst simplifying and streamlining the permit application system thus reducing both the operators’ administrative burden and cost.
Graham Hipkin Terminal Manager