Document control in environmental, health and safety

How can organizations more efficiently create and review document control records, route documents, and conduct change requests using environmental, health and safety software tools?

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Responding is Brenda Percy, product marketing analyst, EtQ Inc., Farmingdale, NY.

Document control is one of the most common applications in compliance today. It allows you to manage the creation, approval, distribution and archiving of all controlled documents and processes, and is an integral part of environmental, health and safety management systems.

Here’s how the EHS system’s document control function can help you efficiently create and review document control records, route documents, and conduct change requests.

Creating and reviewing document records

A good document control system can automate and manage documents efficiently by facilitating the dedicated workflows for all document types, each complete with its own routing options. It also provides the ability to configure “metadata” (essentially a high-level description of each document). It assigns a department that each document is associated with, as well as a priority level and ISO elements. It also records specific information, helps categorize and report on data, and helps to search and filter data so it can easily be found in the system and categorized.

The key is to look for an EHS system that will enable you to configure metadata based on document type, in a flexible manner that will allow you to change fields and add categories, key words and more.

Routing documents

The automated document control system enables you to route documents along the workflow, with a process of approval and review that goes fluidly through the different phases of a workflow.

For example, delegation and escalation rules enable you to assign delegates if someone is unavailable, as well as escalate approvals to meet an impending due date. Escalation ensures work is kept on track and all deadlines are being met. Delegation allows an organization to go through the workflow, so if an employee is out of the office, the document will be assigned to designated substitute for approval.

This level of flexibility enables documents to make it through the system efficiently, whether key personnel are in the office or not.

Change requests

Once documents are created and approved, there will most likely be changes in the future. A good document control system will have a change request workflow that includes revision review and approval. It also will hold the original document until the new document is changed – once the new document is approved, it will take the old document’s place.

Sometimes an organization will have changes that affect multiple documents. In this case, the system should be able to make a global change. This allows you to make multiple document changes within the same workflow and will show all documents to be changed, all affected areas, and where it will be changed.

Closing thoughts

To effectively maintain consistency in processes, job descriptions, work instructions and more, an organization needs to ensure records are controlled. This makes document control a key feature in EHS systems. Using document control to manage your organization’s documents will ensure all tasks are kept on track and accomplished on time.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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