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Defensible Records Destruction

Never Can Say Goodbye? Why You Should …

Knowing when and how to bid adieu to old records is a conundrum. The simplest solution is to hang onto everything; it’s what a lot of companies do. But that approach is neither efficient nor business-savvy.

Eliminating records in a quality controlled, legally defensible and regulatory compliant way is known as defensible destruction. Every organization should have a policy that addresses records retention schedules, legal holds and cost-effective, verifiable ways of destroying unneeded documents.

In Chucking Daisies: How Companies Deal with Big Data, author Randolph Kahn writes that only one in five workers knows how information should be kept or destroyed. This lack of knowledge presents two potential problems:

  1. When little or nothing is destroyed, records pile up like “dead daisies,” Kahn says. Over time, files become unmanageable. Storage space shrinks, storage costs rise and staff productivity suffers. The author cites estimates that employees waste up to 25 percent of work hours searching through unmanaged records for information they need. Most troubling, organizations risk a host of legal, privacy and intellectual-property issues.
  2. Records are destroyed haphazardly. In a 2009 court case, a computer manufacturer was found liable for patent infringement because it did not have a defensible document management system. Because management relied on employees to use their best judgment, the company was left with no viable argument for why it didn’t have key records.

Creating a defensible destruction policy involves more than just setting rules for how to throw away old files. It should be crafted in line with a well-built records management system — with clear retention requirements, defined responsibilities and measurable actions. Such a system should adhere to Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles® and include these key considerations:

  • Weigh costs when developing policy. Within certain legal and regulatory parameters, an organization can decide when to dispose of records. Here costs play a role ­­— not just storage costs or even the cost of destruction, but the staggering expense of discovery when disposal isn’t part of the plan. A survey by the Association for Information and Image Management found businesses saved 25 percent on audit, legal and related expenses through best-practice records management, including defensible destruction.
  • Establish a regular destruction schedule. Compliance standards and legal requirements continually add greater complexity to records management. To keep things manageable, document destruction should be a regular event — always within the policy.
  • Choose the destruction process wisely. Shredding is the most common elimination process, and shredded paper is recyclable. Incineration is another approach, although the environmental impact makes it less desirable. Sending old records to a landfill is not a smart choice; documents in a dump can last 20 years or more — hardly a secure method of disposal.
  • Ensure destroyed records are really gone for good. You’ll want to keep evidence — that is, vendor certification or your own documentation — that records are destroyed at the right time and in the right way.
  • Train your staff well. Those responsible for managing records should be well versed in what to keep, what to throw away, and how and when to do it. Proper training, verified understanding and documented action eliminate uncertainty.

Ultimately, defensible destruction is as much about saving the records you need as it is destroying those you don’t. It’s a sound business strategy you should not toss away.

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Abraxas has developed proven policies and procedures for defensible document destruction strategies. We provide clients with tailored records and information management solutions, delivering the business intelligence that matters most — and we do it more efficiently and reliably than anyone else, particularly in highly regulated industries. To learn more, email solutions@abraxasworldwide.com or call us: Toll-Free: 866.535.0016; Phone: 269.226.0016

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