Controlling paper documents in an ISO9001-2008 quality system

Recently I visited a new client who wants to get accredited to ISO9001-2008. It’s a very small machine shop looking to do business with larger companies, so they (correctly) feel that getting certified to ISO9001-2008 would help to get them in the door.

As is often the case, the company owner has heard of ISO9001-2008, wants to get that nice little certificate, but doesn’t really know much about the details. He knows he needs a quality manual, so he bought a so-called template system off the internet. Now he’s got a small mountain of paperwork sitting on a shelf and he’s wondering a few things. Why do I need a mountain of papers? How is this going to help me? How is this relevant to my business? How am I going to control this?

The company owner incorrectly assumed he needed paper copies of documents. In the bad old days paper documents were inescapable, and nearly uncontrollable. I once asked a retired aerospace engineer how they managed to control their documents in the 60’s. He said it was a constant struggle, with the company having to employ several people just to keep track of document changes.

Fortunately we’re no longer in the bad old days. These days document control can be as simple as putting a password onto a Word or Excel document. If you absolutely need a paper copy for reference, it’s OK to print an uncontrolled version. However it must be labeled as something like “uncontrolled if printed”. And by all means get rid of any printed, uncontrolled copies before your registration audit. While there’s nothing technically wrong with having an uncontrolled, printed version of your quality manual sitting on someone’s desk, I guarantee it will raise questions in the mind of your auditor.

It is important that everyone in your company have access to your quality system documents, such as the quality manual, procedures, work instructions, forms, etc. If you’ve got a very small company, like my new machine shop owner friend, having your documents on one computer terminal, password protected, is sufficient. Make sure your employees know they can have access to the quality system documents whenever they need to look at them. In my experience helping small companies achieve ISO9001-2008 certification, I’ve found that very few employees have any interest in looking at the quality manual. They’ve got better things to do.

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