How to Reduce Paperwork, Save Time and Save Lives

Posted by Sarah Hope


In the 1980's we had filing cabinets full of paper. Guidance documents from regulators had to be ordered by post, and were kept on the shelves of safety managers for reference. Paper inspection records were completed on a clip board with a pen, and stored in large archive boxes.

While we never quite achieved the promised paperless office, in the 2020's we’ve reduced our reliance on printed paper.

Guidance from multiple countries can be searched for and downloaded. Regulations can be viewed online. Our inspections can be completed on a tablet using Forms or Excel to collate data. Word documents are saved in a shared area for everyone to access, and accident reports can be made via email, and summarised in a spreadsheet.

But have we really made that much progress with this transition from paperwork to electronic storage? Storing files on the cloud or an Intranet might have reduced the paperwork on our shelves. But the problems of finding the right document, controlling who can access it, and transferring information from one document to another still result in many of the inefficiencies we had when we relied on filing cabinets and archive boxes.

The most common way to control access to old-style paperwork was inside locked storage. This made it difficult to have different levels of control – someone either had access to the whole cabinet, or none of it. The expensive alternative was to have dedicated support staff who could review requests for information, and provide it as appropriate. But moving to online storage of our ‘paperwork’ has created a headache for data security. We’ve seen individual risk assessments (for example for pregnant workers) stored in the same folder as risk assessment templates, meaning that anyone looking for a template might come across personal medical details they shouldn’t see.

We’ve seen contractors given access to information they need to create RAMS inadvertently being given access to bid details of their competitors. The proliferation of copies of documents sent via email and saved in multiple places leads to version control issues, where no one is sure which is the current version of a procedure or assessment.

In storing paper documents, someone had to decide on a system for storing and retrieval. If risk assessments were stored in time order, it would be easy to check quickly which were the oldest and therefore might need to be updated, but more difficult to find the assessment for a given location or task when reviewing an incident. If contractor information was stored in alphabetical order it would be quick to find a contractor by name, but might require more searching to identify which contractor carried out a specific job six months ago.

Storing documents online allows more flexibility with searching, but that does rely on people following agreed conventions for filenames and storage. Too often, each department has its own system, or individuals are left to create their own. A single typo in a filename or a fumble when dragging and dropping a file into a folder can result in a document that’s almost impossible to find. If you’ve ever been frustrated by the time it can take to find stored information, you’ll know this to be true.

Being able to search the whole of the web for guidance on a topic provides us with more information that we ever had before. As well as legislation and guidance from the regulator, we can find industry best practice, ISO and national standards, case studies, templates, articles, law reports and so on. How do we know when enough is enough? How do we know which of the advice is right when it’s contradictory? Perhaps working life was simpler when we only had one dog-eared copy of a code of practice to follow to decide on how to plan work at height.

So what’s the answer to these problems? Moving our paper documents online wasn’t the solution. The information in those documents needs to be structured and organised in a way that allows us to control access, to save time and to know that we are doing everything we need to do to keep people safe. We need to know quickly when there are gaps. We need to be able to take action rapidly to fill those gaps to protect people.

Mango QHSE can provide that structured environment for your health, safety and environmental system. When new information is created it is automatically saved in the right place – no more time wasted looking for a file. When a user selects a template for a risk assessment they will always get the most recent version, and the end result will be protected according to criteria defined when the system is configured.

When an accident, incident or hazard is reported, it will be instantly available to the people who need to take action. When an audit is due, a risk assessment needs to be reviewed or workers retrained, Mango will send reminders to the right people to get the job done. And because Mango provides tools to create links between standards, regulations and guidance and your working documents, you’ll know when you’ve done everything reasonable to be compliant and to protect people.


Mango Illustration

Although we might have moved from storing documents in filing cabinets, we have replicated some of the paperwork problems – and added some more – in how we store electronic documents. Now is the time to look at how to use an up-to-date system to improve access control, to save time – and to save lives. Discover more about how Mango support this journey at Health & Safety Software for ISO 45001

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Tags: Management System, QHSE Compliance System, Compliance Management, ISO 45001