Q22. How do we control safety management system documents?

Many documents are generated when establishing and implementing a safety management system (SMS), including (but not limited to):

• Policy statements, vision and mission statements and corporate safety objectives.

• Management and work procedures.

• Internal audits and inspections.

• Safety meeting agendas and meeting minutes.

• Permit-to-work forms.

• Risk assessments.

• Corrective actions plans.

• Miscellaneous blank forms and checklists.

With so much documentation within the system, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that all safety management documents are controlled according to defined criteria collectively known as 'document control'. Document control ensures that documentation within an organisation is:

• Clear and unambiguous in its instruction and information.

• Reviewed and approved for use.

• Secure from unauthorized or inadvertent change.

• Accessible and easy-to-use.

• Reliable and accurate when providing communication across the organisation.

• Uniform in its presentation, which promotes a consistent and professional corporate identity. The basic elements of document control that should be considered are:

• Layout, content and formatting: How are the documents in the system to be formatted? What basic content requirements do we have across the range of documents we produce?

• Document ownership: Who has responsibility for documents in the system? Who has permission to modify and change these? What are the criteria for changes and updates?

• Review and approval process: What is the defined process for adding new documents into the system? What is the defined process for the ongoing review and approval of existing documents?

• Document change requests: Where updates to documents are required due to changes in work practices, changes to equipment or other modifying factors, how are these updates initially requested, rejected or implemented?

• Archiving obsolete documentation: What time period does the organisation specify before a document is archived? What is the archiving method? This is especially important for records generated within the SMS, where there may be a legal requirement to keep certain records for a specified time period or where there could be confidentiality issues (such as health surveillance records, medicals, drug and alcohol test results, etc.), even if these are maintained by a third party.

• Managing external documents used within the organisation: There could be many external documents used within the day-to-day operation of a company, such as external reference documents, equipment test certificates, etc. How are these tracked to ensure that they remain in date and accurate?

For companies using ISO 9001-2008,[1] or considering the use of this quality standard, there are clear guidelines for the 'Control of Documents' within section 4.2.3. The above criteria are for general use but also provide the majority of the quality standard elements too.

Q23. How do we format corporate safety documents?

The general content issues you need to consider for your organisation's corporate safety documents include:

• Title: A clear, unambiguous title describing the purpose of the document.

• Date: Date the document with a 'valid from' date in an agreed date format (such as DD-MMM-YY). The date format that tends to be used in North America (mmddyyyy) is not recommended for document control as the juxtaposition of the numbers for the day and month can cause unnecessary confusion when used internationally. Instead, use YY-MM-DD, which can assist in auto-indexing where documents are listed within your safety management system and is becoming more commonly used internationally.

• Document ID: A unique reference number to identify each document across an organisation.

• Document Status: To indicate the status of the document (final, draft, for review, etc).

• Page Numbering: To indicate individual page numbers and total number of pages for all pages.

• Miscellaneous Statements: For example, text indicating 'Uncontrolled when printed'.

When the basic document content components have been agreed, the next step is to develop basic formatting criteria:

• Page set-up: Paper size, margins, justification and header / footer size.

• Font: Define font and font size to be used for titles, general text, headers / footers, etc.

• Style: Define the settings for style bullets, numbering, paragraph formatting, etc.

Once these elements have been developed, you have a basic template available to ensure consistent documentation of your safety management system throughout your organisation.

  • [1] BS EN ISO 9001:2008 - Quality Management Systems - Requirements.
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