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The records life cycle

Last week we spoke about the different kinds of Vital Records and explored the Disaster Recovery Programme.  This week we will be looking into the Records Life Cycle to understand a bit more about important records that are in your office.

records life cycle

(a)  Creation of records

Records are created daily and can be stored in various mediums.

Conventional formats:  correspondence, business forms, business reports, card systems (index and posted (this form hold additional information e.g. doctor rooms – gets updated each time the patient visits)), engineering documents, maps, charts, drawings, catalogues and manuals

Non-conventional formats:  microforms, audio-visual media, electronic media

(b)  Utilisation of records

Records are used by various people during the active stage of its life.

(c)  Retention of records

This is the period during which a record is maintained.

Retention schedule – this schedule lists the records and estimates the period each type of record is to be held in active storage for day-to-day operations and in inactive storage for occasional reference, and if and when records may be purged (deleted from disk) or destroyed (burnt, shredded).  Nowadays there are many software vendors who would be able to customise or sell a records management system to you but in the meantime, you can keep a retention schedule of your records on an excel spread sheet.  It would take a lot of discipline to keep it up to date but will be well worth the effort!

The records retentions schedule should address the following topics:

  • The period during which records have operational, legal, fiscal or historical value
  • The period of time records is considered active and must be maintained in the primary (active) filing area
  • The point in time when records can reasonably be transferred to a secondary storage facility
  • The method of records disposal or disposition i.e. purging, shredding, incinerating
  • The procedures for operating and ensuring compliance with the retention and disposition programmes
  • The relationship between records retention and other aspects of the records management program such as microfilm, filing, data processing and historical archives
  • Retention of records and information, regardless of the format of that record g. microfilm, magnetic media, email or the storage location e.g. offsite storage, file servers and electronic documents.

When retaining your record, you would appraise the record and give it a value –

  • Primary value – these would be the records that are active in nature and are needed for the current operations. The records are used for administrative and accounting purposes, to ensure logical, responsible and consistent actions, for the protection of the legal and financial rights and obligations of the body or origin and to ensure proper control of   These records illustrate whether and how an organisation was able to fulfil its functions and the degree of success.
  • Secondary value – these records are semi-active or inactive and may have a historical or archival importance to the company. It is the long term practical and cultural value records have for the public and researchers at large.
  • The practical value lies in the use of records in family history studies, proof of property and other rights and as evidence in court. From the cultural value, records can be used for research into amongst others, political, social and economic matters.  In other words, records can     be used to describe or reconstruct an event or situation in the past.
  • Administrative value – these are records that are needed for the business to conduct current business operations.
  • Legal value – provisions or agreement that relate to the legal rights and obligations of the company. Example: articles of incorporation, contracts, deeds.
  • Fiscal value – these records relate to the financial transactions of an organisation. Example:  budgets, balance sheets, income statements, bank statements.
  • Research value – this is technical information that results from primary or secondary research and will have a research value to the industry.
  • Information value – these documents need to be kept over a period of years e.g. copyrights and patents.
  • Evidence value – these records trace the development of an organisation e.g. organisational charts, policies and procedures.

Benefits of a retention and disposition programme

  • Reduced space requirements
  • Improved operational efficiency
  • Equipment and supply cost savings
  • Consistency in records disposition
  • Compliance with legal retention requirements
  • Protection during litigation or government investigation

Think about the filing cabinet in your office.  Do you have a list of the important records in your filing cabinet?  If you came into work today and the cabinet was gone – would you be able to replace all the documents?

Do you “clean” out your filing cabinet every now and then and discard what you think you don‘t need into file 13 (the dustbin) or do you have a list of the documents indicating how long you should keep each one and when and how they should be disposed of? Do you work according to a schedule?

When you place a record into your filing cabinet – do you mark it down on a list and give it a retention or disposal date?

Consider setting up a database on MS Excel or MS Access where you can enter the name of a record when you are about to file it and a date when it should be reviewed to consider whether it should be active or inactive (perhaps moved to the archives) and when it should be destroyed and how.  It is always important to get written approval from the owner of a record before it is destroyed!  It will be time consuming to set up but it would give you a better handle of the records in your office.

The same considerations should be given to electronic records.  If you move over to storing your records electronically, it should run in parallel with your paper records.  Once you have decided to store records electronically, you should not add anything to your paper records.  Your electronic system should be a copy of your paper system with regards to files and folders.  Your paper system should be kept up to date according to your retention and disposition schedules and in time will phase out.

(d)  Transfer of records

  • Perpetual transfer method

With perpetual transfer, records are continuously transferred from the active to the inactive files.  The advantage of this method is that all files are kept current because any inactive material is immediately transferred to storage.  The perpetual transfer method works well in offices where projects or tasks are completed.  For example, when a lawyer finishes a case, the file is complete and probably will not need to be referred to at all or certainly not frequently.

  • Periodic transfer method

With periodic transfer, active records are transferred to inactive status at the end of a stated time.  For example, you may transfer records that are more than six months old to the inactive file and maintain records that are less than six months old in the active file.  Every six months you would follow this procedure.

(e)  Disposal of records

Once the life cycle of the record has reached an end, it is necessary to dispose of them.  Care must be taken to destroy the record in its entirety so that it cannot get into the wrong hands!

Often when we look around us we can see many instances where people might not have given a thought to disposing of records correctly.  A good example is when old documents are given to nursery schools etc. to use as drawing paper!  The child draws on the blank side and takes the picture home to give to mommy and daddy and all they do is look on the other side of the drawing and they can get information that could be confidential!!!  Ensure when using old documents and printouts as scrap paper, that you check what is on the other side before leaving it lying around or passing it on to the nursery school!

Records must be either:

  • Electronic records must be purged i.e. deleted from the system
  • Paper records, microform and magnetic records must be shred, pulverised or incinerated.

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