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ISO 14001 Documentation

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While ISO 14001 Standard does not require a documented Environmental Manual, many firms choose to establish such a manual to document company's EMS similar to ISO 9001 QMS. Often firms implement a four-level documentation structure consisting of:

EMS Manual - level 1

Operating Procedures - level 2

Instructions - level 3

EMS Records - level 4

Actually, the documentation structure starts from the policy. The policy, among others, defines the standard or standards a company intends to comply with. If you choose to use this approach, your Environmental Management System will have five levels, similar to the structure below:

Policy - level 1

Manual - level 2

Operating Procedures - level 3

Instructions - level 4

Environmental Records - level 5


Document titles for your ISO 14001 EMS

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 instance, one of my customers titled their Environmental Manual as "Environmental Management System Environmental Manual."

The tendency to use long titles and document identifiers like "Standard Operating Procedure" most likely comes from regulated industries. Even though I could not find a requirement for such long titles, many firms still use these apparently outdated and inefficient conventions. If a short name adequately describes a document, let's use it. Consider this and do not make your system more complicated than it can be.

Numbering your ISO 14001 documents

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 kind 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.

Do these long numbers identify EMS documents? Yes, they do! Are they economical? No, they are not! This system allowed six digits and therefore could deal with one million documents or part numbers. If I worked with this business, they used some 250 documents. Reading these long strings with numerous sequential zeros is difficult and time consuming. Even though this example looks too complicated, "The Worst P/N" Grand Prize won my other ISO 14001 client. They used 14-digit alphanumeric part numbers!

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!

Another debatable issue with the part-numbering is part number designation. Some Environmental Management Systems associate a part number with a particular part type. For instance, 20-xxx indicates a procedure, 30-xxx indicates a drawing, P-xxx indicates a policy-level document and so on. My experience with a number of ISO 14001 businesses convinced me in the benefits of a "no designation" system. Three of my clients' systems that used designation failed. Just recently, one of my EMS customers reported that they ran out of range in their part-numbering format. The EMS allowed assigning materials through a two-digit designator within the part number. If the system was designed a few years ago, needing more than 99 materials was not considered possible. Unfortunately, company's needs changed over time, and just a few years later, the Environmental Management System needed more than 99 materials causing the existing part number format to fail.

To get around this issue, there is a simple solution - a "no designation" system. Document numbers in such systems are simply assigned unique numbers. Areas of use, materials, suppliers, and other attributes are not reflected in part numbers. Moving in this direction, you can simplify your system even more. I worked with a couple of businesses that did not use document No's at all. Those documentation system used just document names followed by their revision numbers, like Communication Procedure AA.

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