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Commercial Business Record Destruction Policy Guidelines

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Commercial Business Record Destruction Policy Guidelines

A majority of businesses of all sizes typically lack a strategy when it comes to paper or digital destruction. Some may have an annual review while others just keep everything until they run out of storage space. There are some records that are required by state and/or federal laws to be kept based on the type of business. Without the right guidance, the state of record keeping versus destruction can become a complicated and confusing condition. Creating both paper and digital record destruction for your business can be done by establishing policy guidelines.

Many individuals might cringe at the idea of destroying digital records or even paper documents that they feel might be important “some day.”  While maintaining those records might make sense on one level, they can be costly in both space needed as well as a potential hazard if stolen. Federal laws dictate that any records that contain personal client or patient information must be maintained for security for specific lengths of time and then properly destroyed so that they are illegible and/or inaccessible. No matter what the business size, at one point, documents and digital records need to be destroyed and it makes the most sense to create a policy that all staff can abide by.

Creating a record destruction policy will help a business in two ways: it will first allow you to enhance your efficiency by getting rid of records that are no longer needed and will also assist a business in being more organized with those records that you are keeping.

First Things First

There are three areas of examination that should be addressed in creating policy guidelines for record destruction and each should be examined based on your specific business type:

Each of these three areas should be analyzed prior to any discussion of record destruction strategy. Your company professionals will offer input as to which documents and/or digital records may be required to be maintained for specific time periods, the legal ramifications of keeping personal client/patient information secure, the longevity required for some documents/digital records, and how they are currently maintained. This is especially important for identifying those critical records that must be retained on a permanent basis.

Gathering Your Experts to Create the Strategy

Those in the various departments of a business are aware of the unique requirements for their specific areas. Since much of this information is often compartmentalized, it is recommended that you conduct meetings to discuss the needs of each division so that they can offer advice on the details that may affect the timing of record destruction.

For businesses of all sizes you will want to include those responsible for the following departments:

Prior to having a first meeting it’s suggested that you explain what the meeting is going to be about and have each develop a list that is specific to their department/division on the topic of record destruction as it relates to legal compliancy, risks, volume of records generated, records destruction accountability and to develop a key performance indicator for their department strategy destruction process.

There are specific laws that dictate that some records must be maintained indefinitely or as long as the condition remains active. These can include: contracts, intellectual property such as patents, trademarks, and copyrights; licenses/permits, government paperwork, vehicle registrations, real estate records, insurance policies, and legal pleadings. Specific attention should be given to these priority company documents and records.

Establish a Manager to Oversee Operations

While input from the various experts in your staff is highly valuable, they are each quite busy with their daily responsibilities. It’s recommended that you have an individual that is designated as the document destruction manager that will oversee all of the aspects of the strategies that you develop, see that pertinent staff are trained, and act as the single point of contact for any vendors that you contract with.

A good document retention manager will confer with all departments and keep up on any legal changes that occur in state of federal situations that pertain to document retention and destruction. The individual will also assist in organizing or re-organizing the methods of record keeping and storage to comply with the strategy changes that may occur in the future.

Records that need to be Maintained

There are a variety of reasons that both paper and digital records need to be maintained for a business. Your company experts should advise you on the specifics for:

Identifying Records and Setting a Schedule

Company records come in all shapes, sizes, and priorities. Some are bound by intense legal requirements for privacy while others many be proprietary internal information. A good business will have records access segregated by approved personnel only but sometimes even that isn’t sufficient enough as records can compound on a daily, monthly, or annual basis.

To avoid being overwhelmed and to have an easier way to access, it’s suggested that you add an additional layer that is referred to as “metadata.”  This is a method used to offer summarized key word information regarding what the record is about, who the owner is, the location of the record, and any legal ramifications that are associated with it. Previewing the metadata will offer good insight as to the record priority.

Working with your internal experts you can establish a tentative schedule for record destruction. This could be monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending upon the type of business.

Creating a metadata method can also add an additional level so that you can institute new ways of organizing the records for easier access and future destruction decisions.

A First Run Through

Record destruction can be a bit scary so it’s recommended that you establish a first run through test. Each of the departments involved in making the decisions should present the records to be destroyed with a quick analysis and approval by all.

Once the department representatives have established the specifics for both paper and digital record destruction you can create an employee training process that will follow the approved strategy.

A second run through should occur with both the department experts and staff representatives to demonstrate that all understand the strategy, process and rules.

Re-evaluating the Process on a Scheduled Basis

Things change in business every day and many of the changes could affect the timing and requirements of record destruction. State and federal laws are constantly being adjusted to fit the needs of a digital age so it is recommended that you have a quarterly meeting with the experts in your business.  The goal of the evaluation should involve reviewing any required changes, the success of existing record destruction, the addition of new changes that need to be made to modify the strategy, and a report on employee participation to make sure they are adhering to the guidelines.

For those companies that have a paper documents in storage, part of the review might include the price of converting the documents to digital to save on the cost of storage for the duration of time needed and establishing new strategies to convert paper documents on a regular basis.  This is of particular interest for any business that stores documents offsite where there is an additional difficulty added for document retrieval.

Holding a strategy review and update meeting can also offer insights into new technologies as well as discuss whether the company is holding onto documents longer than is really needed.

The meeting should also include covering the topic of security for both paper and digital records, employee access, and making decisions as to additional record segregation that may be required.

Paper, Digital, and Other

Some companies have made the transition to completely digital records whereas other companies may have a combination of both. It’s important to make all department experts and staff members aware of the laws that apply to both types of record keeping.

While paper may be the easiest to destroy, a priority remains on making sure that the destruction is complete so that no document could ever be reassembled.

Digital records are maintained on a number of devices and the document retention manager will work with IT and staff members to ensure that all technologies that contain company records are identified prior to leaving the company. The manager will educate all company personnel on the methods required for destruction prior to end of life or upgrade for such devices as:

In addition to paper and digital is the topic of anything stored on the internet or the cloud as backup. These can include:

Third Party Data Destruction

Many businesses are turning to professional data destruction companies such as Healthcare Waste Management for paper and digital destruction. It cannot be understated that the company must be knowledgeable of all state and federal laws for all types of data destruction, provide certification proof of destruction that complies with state and federal guidelines, and offers complete security in the process of pickup to the destruction facilities.

The best data destruction companies such as HWM will act as consultants to make recommendations for your specific business needs as well as offer any compliancy training for the staff.  Using their expertise can offer good insight for any onsite record storage that requires high level security as well as helping in the review of your strategy.

A third party data destruction company should be able to demonstrate that they have the ability to use the latest technologies for destruction of both paper and digital records, offer complete and total security with locked containers for pickup, and supply certification of record destruction.

The company that is contracted should confer regularly with the records retention manager for cost-effective analysis, new information that may be needed, or

change of pickup schedules or volume.

The best companies such as HWM should have clear and transparent contracts that don’t include any hidden costs, own their own vehicles and destruction facilities, and employ all of their own staff.

Set Up an Alert System

There are circumstances that may occur in a business that requires that all record destruction be stopped. These happen during audits as well as reviews by various state or federal agencies. Establish an alert system that lets all staff know that all record destruction processes that were previously set in place must be temporarily halted until a release notification is given.

The alert system is a priority that should also include notification of any/all vendors involved in data destruction and all internal or external staff. The records retention manager will work with the pertinent departments involved in whatever legal, state or federal situation that is occurring so that the required records are maintained until the condition has officially ended.

Parent page – Secure Document Destruction


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