Control of Work – a Major Challenge in both Capital Projects and Continuous Operations

January 14, 2020

By David Drerup.

Shutdowns, Turnarounds, and Outages (STOs) continue to be a major budget and time challenge. A significant contributing factor to cost overruns is poor Control of Work (CoW). Safe Work Permitting or CoW is the process of authorizing hazardous work to proceed, and robust CoW is part of an overarching Conduct of Operations (CoO) management system. Work Permitting ensures the right sequence and detail is applied to appropriately manage risks. Safe Work Permitting does not mean that the job is safe and easy to complete; it simply authorizes work to continue with appropriate safeguards implemented to reduce hazards and other risks. The typical work process for CoW is as follows:


CoW is often a challenge in turnarounds and continuous operations, including shift handover. In larger integrated oil and gas companies (upstream, downstream, midstream, and chemicals), there may be as many as 20,000 permits issued each day excluding STO work activities.

Case Study

A recent turnaround at a western U.S. refinery involved more than 1,300 contractors and 12 contract companies. Due to project congestion and other contributing factors, contractors spent one to two hours each day waiting on permits and certificates to be issued. This led to a project overrun of nearly two weeks, which is just one example of the impact any factor can have on meeting project deadlines and budgets.

In another business case we assessed, there was a potential savings of more than $500m over a five-year period through effective CoW practices. The following is the typical efficiency for a mid-sized chemical plant:

Assumes a conservative estimate of 1 hour/person/permit or certificate/day is wasted waiting for approvals. The average turnaround is 30 days and leverages 150 contractors.
Assumes a conservative estimate of 1 hour/permit or certificate/day is wasted waiting for approvals.

Challenges with CoW

Work permitting can be complex, especially during an STO. Major challenges a company may experience include:

  • Lack of standardization and sharing of business and work practices
  • Effectively managing permits across multiple contractors
  • Inadequate work and meeting planning
  • Communication issues with a multilingual workforce
  • Difficulty closing permits when many are suspended
  • Reissuing of permits at the end of each shift
  • Inconsistencies in permits being issued along with lack of accountability
  • Lack of adequate experience to conduct subjective risk assessments

Any of these challenges can lead to elevated risk and the potential for an increased incident rate, not to mention a reduction in effective wrench time and profitability.

Better Efficiency

A major advantage of electronic work permitting is reduced time spent waiting for permits and certificates issued each day. In addition, fewer permit writers are required for an STO. Permitting systems that have a visual component help aggregate the entire plant and current conditions.

Areas of Application

CoW is an integral part of work activities including Management of Change (MoC). A key application of CoW for MoC is satisfying the requirement to isolate all associated energy sources when changing out a pump. Another application of CoW is conducting Operator Logs during a shift.

An effective CoW philosophy supports operational discipline, providing assurance that workers do the right thing, in the right way, day after day. The end goal is safer work conditions and processes while maximizing efficiency.

These are the areas of CoW specifically noted by regulatory agencies:

  • Lockout/Tagout
  • Confined space entry
  • Hot work
  • Opening process equipment
  • Piping/Line breaking
  • Control over entrance

These regulations do not limit CoW to those areas alone, implying the need to consider other activities for inclusion as appropriate. Some examples of other possible activities include excavations, high voltage work, critical lifts, and the use of man-baskets.


CoW helps regulate work processes and procedures to assure work hazards are understood and measures are taken to limit the risk. It requires a logical process to develop the work procedure and authorizations by knowledgeable and responsible personnel. Further, CoW is applicable to both continuous operations and STO scenarios, with a significant business case to be made for improvement. This is especially true during capital projects that will benefit from an efficient work process and electronic work permitting solution.

How are you handling CoW today? Are you seeing potential savings in digitizing your CoW work process, including access to permits on a tablet in the field?