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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Thornhill


Aaah paperwork. Everyone's favourite summer reading topic.

We routinely see examples where an organisation's management systems are over documented. 

Our Top 5 tips to rationalise the amount of documentation include:

1. Why is it documented? Review your documentation. If it is not (a) required (e.g. by a Standard or law), (b) contributing to your compliance objectives (e.g. providing a safe workplace) or (c) helpful to maintain organisational knowledge - get rid of it.

2. Focus on the outcome - not the documents. We see many organisations highly focussed on the documents they think they need, rather than the outcome they want to achieve. 

For example, we need to develop a safety induction process. We develop the supporting procedure and forms. We then measure the % completion of induction forms and audit the process periodically. When management review results, they see a high % of forms have been completed on  time and conclude we are working safely.

But are we? Measures of process completion do not always correlate well with actual safety performance and can give the management team an illusion of safety (i.e. false confidence that safety risks are being reduced/managed).

Greg Smith explains the illusion of safety in more detail in the book recommendation below. This illusion can be equally prevalent in food safety, environment or quality assurance.

If the focus stays on the outcome (e.g. a safety induction process that provides staff with a clear understanding of workplace hazards and required controls), then the management team can have more confidence that monitoring and measuring results reflect what the business is trying to achieve.

3. Consider the audience. How do they learn? What do they need to know? Cut out the waffle.

4. Integrate. If you need to create a procedure - start by mapping out what you already do and integrate into the procedure.

5. Understand a "process". Read your ISO Standard carefully and you will see ISO require you to plan, implement, monitor/measure and improve the processes necessary to achieve your objectives and intended outcome (e.g. for OHS, environment, food safety etc). 

Focus on the outcome you want to achieve and then the process required to achieve this outcome. 

Take the safety induction process as an example. Thinking about it as a process helps you understand and coordinate the steps involved, identify the handover points, risks and control measures required, resources and what needs to be monitored or measured to verify the process achieves its intended outcome. Once you understand safety induction as a process, you can then identify documentation required to support the process.

Recommended Reading:

Keeping with our Paperwork theme - Paper Safe - The Triumph of Bureaucracy in Safety Management (Gregory Smith, 2018) is a must read for those interested in workplace safety.

Greg, a WHS lawyer based in Western Australia, argues that paperwork, far from "covering our arse in court", can be your major source of legal liability (if it doesn't reflect what you actually do) and adds complexity that takes focus off the protection of workers from hazards. 


A complete list of mandatory documentation required for ISO 45001, ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 can be downloaded from our Resources Page:

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