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Document Management Systems Can Fill EHS Needs, Analyst Says

Mid-sized and small companies can often use document management systems to accomplish the same results they would get out of environmental, health and safety (EHS) systems, according to Kevin Prouty, research director for enterprise applications at Aberdeen Group.

In an Aberdeen webinar, Prouty said document management systems are essential for companies that want a firm grip on the quality of their supply chain and end products, allowing manufacturers to answer questions such as, “What did I ship out?,” “Is the distributor handling it properly?”, and “Can I recall it from distribution?”

Such systems will probably fit many of the environmental management needs of small and medium-sized enterprises, as long as the companies understand what requirements they need to comply with, Prouty said.

He said, however, that certain industries and geographies have complicated EHS requirements requiring more dedicated systems. In the chemical sector, for instance, companies must track a heavy flow of material safety data sheets.

In his presentation, Prouty outlined a number of best practices for companies using document management systems, based on a survey of manufacturing companies that Aberdeen conducted in October:

Internal audits: Companies that fail to do internal audits feel the pain once it comes time for external auditors to look at the facility. These companies lose points with auditors for poor documentation, record management, difficulty of retrieval, or for not having certain documents signed off.

Consistency: Different plants in the same company should all organize their documents in the same way.

Automation: This is the area where best-in-class companies really start to distinguish themselves, Prouty says. Rather than tossing papers in file folders, the best companies scan documents and feed them into automated document management systems for easy retrieval.

Such systems warn when products are out of spec, and enforce procedures so only a designated individual can override warnings. In one plant that Prouty visited, an out-of-spec designation triggered flashing lights and loud sirens that only the supervisor could shut off.

In contrast, less than half of “laggard” companies in the Aberdeen companies collect data automatically. Prouty says that at a plant where he once worked, “I had six people whose main function was to retrieve information when customers or auditors came asking.”

Being able to quickly examine a distribution chain or recall a product is more important than ever, with recent legislation giving the FDA more power to inspect facilities, recall products or even shut down production lines, Prouty added.

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