Having a robust document management system (DMS) is essential to manage OSH programs and processes like risk management, safety reporting, and compliance. A DMS is also necessary to retain, control, review, and route OSH documentation like safety training, work permits, safety plans, audit reports, lists of hazardous chemicals, and OSH evaluations. Even today, many businesses rely on mostly paper-based methods for document management, despite its many drawbacks.
In a recent Professional Safety article, Lori Schroth and Brandon J. Hody outline the business benefits of a fully electronic DMS and provide a thorough 10-step process to transition from paper to electronic documentation.
The constraints of a paper-based document system are many. Paper documentation is more subject to disorganization, misfiling, misplacement, damage/deterioration, tampering, and theft. Paper documents may not be as readily accessible and are more difficult to modify and keep up to date. On top of these constraints, there are also the environmental and monetary costs of printing and ink usage.
Transitioning to an electronic DMS provides several benefits. There’s no need for large storage rooms or file cabinets, and cloud storage allows companies unlimited capacity for virtual documents. There are productivity enhancements as electronic documents can be routed instantly for electronic signatures and forms can be templated and easily filled out. With layers of encryption and passwords, electronic documents are less susceptible to security breaches. Finally, an electronic system sets up an auditable trail for reviews and updates, and makes it easy to produce automated reports.
Schroth and Hody lay out a 10-step process to help companies transition to an electronic-based DMS:
- Consider organizational needs and expectations, such as the functions and features needed by the system, and who the end users of the DMS will be.
- Consider factors affecting implementation, such as how the electronic DMS would affect workflows, security, and accessibility.
- Solicit input and feedback from end users. Possible end users may include employees, supervisors, process owners, contractors, vendors, and customers.
- Assess resource availability and technological readiness. Considerations here are the cost of data storage, IT infrastructure, and human resources necessary to maintain an electronic DMS.
- Choose an appropriate electronic system by trialing different software options for usability and integration with existing technology.
- Employ a change management strategy by creating an action plan for implementation and communicating the responsibilities for end users.
- Gain top management support for smoother implementation and acceptance of the new DMS.
- Train end users to use the new system, providing training specific to the roles and responsibilities of different end users.
- Conduct quality control audits to verify the accuracy and consistency of documentation, and to address any user errors.
- Plan for continuous improvement by using audit findings to identify opportunities and create action plans.
Paper-based document management systems present many shortcomings, which can be mitigated by transitioning to a fully electronic system. While this transition can be challenging, following the steps outlined by Schroth and Hody can help organizations make the change with fewer hurdles and a higher success rate.
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