Are your management system documents out of control?

by Suzanne Orme

At last things are getting easier!

Long gone are the “typing pool” days of the 70’s and 80’s. The 90’s heralded the age of the “e-document”, predominantly Microsoft Word and Excel. There was a shift away from the massive archives of printed materials that waste paper and create a fire hazard. But this leap forward came with a downside.

We all know that the enhanced ability to create, modify and transmit documents quickly has encouraged excessive documentation coupled with the ongoing challenge of controlling and keeping them up to date. What typically happens?

  • People access an earlier, superseded version
  • Records are inadvertently deleted or lost
  • There are too many forms to fill in and registers to update
  • People have difficultly finding a particular document
  • People print documents or copy the “controlled” version onto their desktop

Any of this sound familiar?

Thankfully the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), has come to the fore by reducing the emphasis on documentation for HSEQ Management. For Environmental Management Systems, ISO14001:2015, there are 32 clauses containing requirements. Only 18 of these explicitly state that the organisation must “maintain documented information”. For ISO45001:2018 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems, there are 17 such clauses.

The extent of documented information will vary due to these factors:

  • Size or the organisation and its activities, products and services
  • Need to demonstrate fulfilment of compliance obligations
  • Complexity of processes and their interactions
  • Competence of persons doing work under the organisation’s control

Some alternatives to documents include: visual aids; engineering controls; training; supervision; demonstration and experience. Information may be incorporated into alternative media such as videos; photos; electronic signs and mobile phone alerts, to name just a few.

Now is a great time to assess whether each document in the management system is needed and if there is anything missing. I’ve created a set of questions that can assist you in this endeavour.

  • Does the document duplicate another document?
  • Is there a legal or contractual requirement to create a record or report?
  • Does the ISO standard state a requirement to maintain or retain documented information?
  • Would the lack of a document create an operational or strategic risk?
  • Could the document be integrated with another document?
  • Is the document needed for training or communication purposes?

Since the release of ISO45000:2018, the desire to integrate Workplace Health and Safety with Quality and Environmental Management can be much more easily accomplished.

Please feel free to call me, Suzy, on 0418 862899 if you need guidance on documentation requirements for HSEQ.

6 Replies to “Are your management system documents out of control?”

  1. Suzy

    its an improvement in the standards that they no longer mention keeping a procedure as such. But I don’t see any practical difference for us in the amount of paperwork we are obliged to keep. Auditors, where external or internal will ask for evidence and this is usually in the form of a record, report, data or documentation of some kind.

    1. Good point, David. One place to start is to ask the question “what evidence would I need to provide in order to confirm that this requirement has been met?”. For example if the issue is communication, a “toolbox talk” containing instructions to be followed with a record of content, dates, names and signatures would be better than a written procedure on an A4 piece of paper that people may not read, understand and follow.

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