14001 Environmental Management System documentation

By: Mark Kaganov..

Similar to ISO 9001 documentation structures, many companies certified to ISO 14001 choose a four-level documentation model that includes records. This 4-level Environmental management system is shown below:
EMS Manual - level 1
Operating Procedures - level 2
Instructions - level 3
Records - level 4
If we start from our manual, how are we going to know what standard this manual is for? The Environmental Policy defines what standard or standards, a business wants to comply with. If you like this idea, your ISO 14001 EMS will contain five levels as in the following list:
EMS Policy - level 1
Environmental Manual - level 2
Procedures - level 3
Instructions - level 4
EMS Records - level 5
Naming your documents
As you may have noticed, the titles of EMS documents in the structure above are quite short. Various organizations use different conventions for their document titles. For example, one of my customers titled their Environmental Manual as "Environmental Management System Environmental Manual."
As a rule, regulated industries are known for calling 2nd-level documents Standard Operating Procedures or SOPs. I always wonder if these companies also have "Non-standard Operating Procedures", so these long titles differentiate them. Since a short name identifies an EMS document, I really cannot justify long names for documents. I preach Environmental Management System optimization and reduction of waste in all elements. I invite you too not to make things more difficult than they have to be to deliver the message.
ISO 14001 EMS document numbers
No standard prescribes to give a part or a document its number. It is an industry standard to give a document or a component its name, No. and a revision level. Similar to part titles that we discussed above, document numbering conventions are often also may be simplified.
Once I worked with an ISO 14001 certified company of less than 100 people, using fairly simple processes and having straight-forward environmental aspects. Their Environmental documentation system included a few numeration systems depending on the type of document. One of the procedures had a number 000298-001, which they simply called "one ninety eight." Drawings were numbered in a format like 123-456-33-07.
Is it not illegal to have long and difficult-to-read and remember document numbers, but it takes time to read, write and remember them. In the example above, the procedure number, without the tab, contained six digits. This meant that the Environmental system was prepared to handle almost one million document or part numbers. The company had approximately 160 documents and probably would never go beyond 200. If nothing else, just reading these numbers with three-four sequential zeros in the front may give one a headache. Surprisingly, this is not the worst case. The organization that won my "The Worst Part Number" Grand Prize assigned twelve (!) digits to their part numbers in the alphanumeric format.
If you are developing or optimizing your ISO 14001 Environmental management system, consider a simple rule:"the shorter - the better". If you are constructing a hydro electric plant or building an aircraft carrier, you will need millions of parts. To number this kind of inventory, one will definitely need long numbers. If not, think optimization. Once I audited an ISO 14001 certified start-up that numbered their documents 105. 105, 106, etc. I think they deserve applauds!
So far we explored opportunities for improvements in the areas of EMS document titles and numbers. Yet, there is another issue with part numbers. Significant number of businesses relate a document number to a document type. For example, 45-nnn indicates a procedure, 56-nnn indicates a drawing, POP-nnn indicates a Production Operating Procedure, etc. My experience with a few businesses that used designation approaches showed that "no designation" systems are more practical. A few of the EMS systems that I have worked with that used designation have failed. Some time ago, one of my 14001 clients mentioned that they ran out of range in their document numbering format. The EMS initially permitted for identifying paint color through a two-digit extension within the part number. Soon the organization grew, the number of paint options increased beyond expectations and eventually the company needed more than 99 colors. This resulted in the document number format not being able to support the requirements.
An alternative approach to ISO 14001 system part numbering is a "no designation" approach. In such a system, documents are given sequential unique numbers within a specified format, regardless of their type, material, application or other attributes. After all, isn't the part title the best designator? Through my entire professional career, I worked only with a couple of companies that did not use even document numbers. Their EMS documents were simply identified by unique titles and a two-digit revision level, like Environmental Manual 01.

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Since mid 90th Quality Works helped hundreds of businesses around the world with establishing their ISO 14001 documentation systems, implementation of their EMS, auditing, process improvement and certification. If you are working on your ISO 14001 Environmental Management System, check out our ISO 14000 Documentation page - our tested template sets will save you time and money.

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