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Records Management and Storage

Are your file cabinets busting at the seams? Is it time to retire and store outdated documents?

Good records management will help organize your business. More importantly, it will keep your company in compliance with legal and legislative requirements.

"The legal authorities hold companies responsible for managing their records. If records are missing and they come to be important, particularly in litigation — it can result in some severe legal fines," says Diane Carlisle, director of professional resources for the Association for Informational Management Professionals.

How long should you keep your records?

The good news is only 5% of your records need to be kept indefinitely, according to experts at Iron Mountain, a national records management company. The rest can be destroyed after a specified period of time.

Bankers Box offers the following sample record retention guidelines.

 Permanently  Seven years  Three years  One year
Stock and bond certificates Bank statements Cash slips Sales and service correspondence
General ledgers Credit and collection correspondence Budget worksheets Requisitions
Profit and loss statements Uncollectible accounts
Commission reports Lease records
Audit reports Expense reports Petty cash records Sales and marketing correspondence
Minutes from board of directors' meetings Accident reports, injury claims, settlements
Expired insurance policies Employee travel information

Packing up outdated records

"[Keep] in the office those records that are most critical for your daily operations [along with] the prior year's records," recommends Carlisle.

The rest can be packed into cardboard storage containers. Cardboard storage drawers are best for outdated files you might need to view semi–regularly. Cardboard storage boxes with lids work best for those files you're keeping for legal reasons, but don't anticipate needing. Both have the ability to be stacked as many as ten high.

Onsite storage room

If you opt to store records in your business' basement, be sure there is clearance between the floor and the boxes to protect your files against potential flooding. A wooden palette should do the job.

Check the storage room's climate, especially if you're storing records that have been transferred onto microfilm or other media formats. Extreme temperatures or humidity may degrade microfilm and media images over time. You'll also want to be sure your business files are safe from vermin.

One person should maintain your records room as well as keep track of which records have been removed and by whom.

Offsite storage room

"The average company usually doubles its entire volume of records every ten years," according to the Bankers Box Records Management Handbook.

At some point, you may want to consider outsourcing the storage of your records to a professional records management company. If you do, evaluate these facilities carefully. Again, check to see if your documents will be protected against potential floods, extreme temperatures, and vermin. Additionally, you'll want to inquire whether the building is burglar–, earthquake–, and fire–proof.

Destruction

When the retention period for certain records expires, you'll want to destroy them safely. According to the article Records Retention and Disposal by Edwin Powell and published in OfficeSolutions, "sometimes outdated documents are worth far more to others than they are to you. Corporate espionage costs U.S. businesses more than $7 billion a year, and the onus is on potential victims to protect themselves since "dumpster divers" are protected under the law. Anything put out in the trash is considered fair game for anyone who wants to retrieve it."

Today's shredders will not only destroy paper, but some will also handle computer disks, CDs, audio and videocassettes, as well as credit cards. Straight–cut shredders cut your documents into long strips, while cross–cut shredders tear up your records into small pieces of paper, similar to confetti.

If you opt for a shredder, purchase one that is large enough and fast enough to manage your destruction process.


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