Are your management system documents out of control?

At last there’s a 21st C solution! 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  • People access an earlier, superseded version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?

This year, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), have come to the fore by reducing the emphasis on documentation for Quality and Environmental Management. In the International Standard 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”. 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.

Early 2016 will be 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 process.

  • 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 documented information?
  • Would the lack of a document create an operational risk?
  • Could the document be integrated with a Workplace Health and Safety document?
  • Is the document needed for training or communication purposes?

Once a review of documentation is completed, consider whether software could be used to make things easier going forward. A number of companies have invested large sums in purpose built management system software with varying degrees of success. These days there are alternatives that avoid the high upfront cost and the best one we have seen is from New Zealand – called ecoPortal.

21st Century Solution

My Associate, Julie Dickson, and I were excited to come across this innovative cloud based management system software at a presentation by its developer, Manuel Seidel, at the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ) Conference in Hobart last year.

So earlier this year we visited Auckland to get an in depth understanding of how ecoPortal works. We found the platform easy to use and fully customisable for each client’s site, unlike traditional enterprise software.

We immediately saw ecoPortal as an invaluable addition to our Environmental Management toolkit. It would give us the ability to connect with clients “in the cloud” to share information anywhere, anytime. The platform is designed to help companies chart a course of continual improvement towards sustainability. It is consistent with both the Enviroease “sustainability circle” consulting approach as well as meeting the requirements of ISO14001:2015.

Since the release of the new version of the Quality standard, ISO9001:2015, and the finalised international safety standard, ISO45000, we see a big role for integrated management systems. The desire is to integrate Workplace Health and Safety and Quality Management with Environmental Management, this can be accomplished easily.

How the Enviroease team can help you

With our combined management system expertise and knowledge we look forward to helping clients improve their system documentation so that nothing is lost and everything is easy to find.

With an efficient system in place, staff will be able spend more time doing what they do best – managing the site and operations to improve business performance.

Please feel free to call me, Suzy, on 0418 862899 to discuss your particular needs.

3 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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