Seven elements to control documents in the EMS

While ISO 14001 doesn’t require that you have documented procedures as are found in ISO 9001, it does have some required documentation that needs to be controlled. In addition, it is recognized that unless you are an extremely small company with very few employees, it will be very likely that you will need to document some of your processes and procedures in order to maintain consistency between employees in your environmental management system. With this in mind, the ISO 14001 requirements include seven key elements to ensure that documentation is properly controlled.

What are the seven elements?

If you already have an ISO 9001 Quality Management System in place, you will find that the elements to control documents should already be present; however, if you are implementing an Environmental Management System per ISO 14001 requirements as your first management system, here are the seven items needed to control any documents you need to create:

Approve for adequacy. When you have created a document for employees to use, it is essential that you have some way to check that it is sufficient to make sure that the job is performed properly. This is often done through a designated review and approval by the identified experts in the process, who can make sure that what the document states is correct. Typically, a member of top management gives final approval for EMS documents.

Review, update and re-approve. As the documented procedure is used, it is important to make sure that it is producing the results that are necessary to ensure the environmental impacts that can occur from the process are prevented. If, during this review, the need for changes is identified, then the documented procedure needs to be updated and re-approved for use. A best practice is to assign a document owner who is the expert in that process to be in charge of reviewing and updating the procedure.

Identify changes and current revision status. When you have changed a document, it is critical for employees to easily see what has changed. If you have made a small, but important change to a long process, such as changing a measurement from monthly to weekly, then this might be missed if the entire process (most of which is already known) needs to be reviewed again. This can be done easily using change bars in most word processing software, or a summary of changes listed in the document. Equally important is having some way to identify what version the document is (e.g., third release of the procedure, or procedure dated 28-Feb-2001). This is especially important if you are using paper releases of documents.

Ensure relevant version is available. When you have updated a document, it is critical to make sure that the people who need to use it are aware of the change and have the most recent version of the document to use. With electronic documents this is easily done if there is one place that people go to access documents (you just need to update that place); however, with paper documents you need to make sure that copies are removed from the point of use and replaced. If you did not need the employees to know and understand the information in the most recent update of the document, then why did you update it in the first place?

Ensure legibility and identification. If people are unable to read a document, or figure out what it is for, they are not able to use it properly to ensure the requirements of the environmental management system are met. This not only applies to paper copies of a procedure, but also electronic copies. Do people have the tools necessary to read the document, or do you have old software or hardware in use with the operators that will not be able to properly read the file (such as previous versions of word processing software or files stored on floppy disk that can’t be read by new computers)?

Ensure external documents are identified and controlled. If you have identified a document from outside of your organization to be necessary for the planning and operation of the environmental management system, such as a legal document or customer requirement document, you need to have a way to identify this document so that employees who need to use it understand what it is, and to control who has access to the document, particularly in the case of a sensitive document such as a customer proprietary specification.

Prevent unintended use when obsolete. If you have updated a document, or chosen to make a document obsolete and not use it any longer, there needs to be a way to make sure that these documents are not used by employees unintentionally. This is particularly important if you have chosen to keep these documents for any sort of archival purpose, and in this case there needs to be an easy way to identify that the document being viewed is obsolete and should not be used.

Why control of documents is important

Documentation control is all about getting the right information, to the right people, when they need it to do their job. If you have decided that it is important to write down the information needed for employees to properly do a job, then it is important to make sure they have the right information. With these seven easy steps you can make sure that mistakes do not happen because employees are misinformed by the information they have to do their job.

Download this free Checklist of Mandatory Documentation Required by ISO 14001:2015 to learn which documents are required.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.