Feel like you’re buried under an avalanche of forms, permits, and contracts? You’re not alone: Document management is one of the biggest headaches for EHS teams.
Without an effective way to manage paper and digital files, it’s hard to find what you need and even harder to complete compliance tasks on time.
To help you dig yourself out, we’ve compiled 5 document management tips to help you get — and stay — organized:
1. Implement a document management system
A document management system is an electronic system used to track, manage, and store digital documents as well as scanned copies of paper documents.
For teams that handle large volumes of paper — such as those in highly-regulated industries — a document management system is a lifesaver.
You can think of it this way: When tax time rolls around, it’s so much easier to file your taxes when your W-2, 1099s, and receipts are all in one place.
Similarly, it's much easier to stay on top of your company’s compliance obligations when you don't have to go digging for the documents you need.
A document management system also improves access to important files across your organization, since documents can be uploaded, shared, and accessed from anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi connection.
2. Use standardized naming conventions
As you add files to your document management system, it’s important to give them identifiable names. This will make it easier for everyone to locate the exact documents they need.
Ideally, anyone looking at a file should be able to identify the contents just by looking at the name. You might consider including some of the following information in your file names to help distinguish one file from another:
- descriptive information about the type of document (permit, agreement, audit form, etc.)
- the date the file was created
- the facility or location the document pertains to, if you have multiple sites
3. Define your folder structure
Similar to naming conventions, folders can be a useful tool to organize and keep track of your files.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to structuring your folders. A manufacturing company with multiple factories might organize their folders by location. Another company might sort files by type — permits in one folder, inspections in another, and so on. Yet another company might use folders only for security purposes, so that documents in a specific folder can only be seen by users with the appropriate permissions.
Whichever folder structure you choose, be sure to keep it simple. A disorganized or overcomplicated folder structure can easily “bury” important files.
One of the advantages of a document management system is that it’s searchable, which means folders aren’t strictly necessary. In fact, since a document management system allows you to search for files by name or category, some organizations opt to do away with folders altogether.
4. Stop sending email attachments
Email is a convenient tool for communicating with your team, but it’s a terrible way to manage documents.
In email, it’s hard to locate files and there’s no way to know if you’re looking at the most current version. It’s not unusual for people to create duplicate versions of the same file, leaving you to make sense of all the changes.
What’s more, email can jeopardize the security of your files. Once you send an attachment, there’s no way to control who has access to that file.
Fortunately, a document management system solves this problem by allowing you to share links to files or access them directly from a central library.
5. Use version control/check-out
There's no worse feeling than realizing one of your co-workers saved over a document you've been working on. That's where version control and check-out comes in.
Version control lets you track changes to a document, so you can look at or restore an older version of a file. You can see when the file was changed and who changed it, compare the different versions, and even replace the current version with a previous one if needed.
Check-out prevents two people from making changes to a document at the same time. When you have a file checked out, no one else can edit it. Then, once you check the file back in, people can see your changes and edit the file if needed.
Your next steps
By following the tips in this article, you’ll be able to organize your EHS documents and save yourself from a lot of unnecessary headaches. For more time-saving tips, check out this article on 5 ways to be more productive this year.