Control of Documented Information

| April 15, 2011

In a previous blog, I discussed the new High Level Structure and identical text requirements that has been proposed for all ISO management system standards.  One of the proposed changes is to eliminate the document control and record control elements and replace them with a new provision requiring control of “documented information”.  Documented information is somewhat vaguely defined in this new scheme as “the information required to be controlled and maintained by an organization”.

Although this may be seen as progressive by those who developed this new management system structure, it is likely to create confusion on the part of users of the standards who are not information management experts.

There are important reasons for distinguishing between the documents that  need to be controlled in a management system and record retention requirements.  Even though both document control and record control are control of documented information, their purpose and use is very different.

Documents are controlled to ensure that individuals are using the correct information to guide them in accomplishing some task.  The information within a document changes over time as conditions and requirements change.  This is why approval processes and version control are critical for documents.

Records are controlled to ensure that the information contained within the document is available and accurate for reference in the future.  The information in records should not change over time.  This is why preservation and data integrity are critical for records.

In honor of the upcoming tax return deadline, I will use preparation and retention of tax returns as an example of document and record control. 

When you complete your tax return, it would be foolish to use last year’s forms and instructions. Instead, since tax forms typically change each year, you look for the most recent version. You want to ensure you use the right form so you meet the requirements set out in the tax code. Version control is what is important.

Once your tax return has been submitted to the IRS, it becomes a record.  Sometimes that record is requested by others to provide evidence of your financial stability.  It would be foolish to change the information contained in that record – and probably illegal as well.  Data preservation and integrity is what is important – not version control.

Both of these involve the control of “documented information” but they are hardly the same.

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2011)

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Category: OHSMS Documentation, OHSMS Implementation, Standards & Certification

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