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Appendix 3: Paper records – environmental risks

Fire

Install chemical fire extinguishers (do not use a sprinkler system as water can be even more damaging than fire). Smoke from fires elsewhere in the building can also do much damage, so make sure that doors are tight-fitting and kept closed. Inflammable liquids kept on the premises should be properly stored, and as far away as possible from the records. Install smoke and fire alarms, preferably a system that connects directly to the local fire service.

Important paper documents should be kept in a fire-proof safe, but do not entrust your computer back-up drive to a fire-proof safe – it can melt. Instead, use secure off-site storage.

Water

Basements are not a good place for archiving records – better to use professional off-site archiving services if you don’t have a suitable space for storing inactive files. If you are in a flood-prone area, store records above floor level. Think also about the risks from leaking roofs and plumbing problems. If you have sprinklers in areas that house computers, put waterproof covers on the computers before going home at night.

Gravity

Paper records can be very heavy, so get an engineer to check that the floor of your records room can carry the load.

Insects and vermin

Have regular inspections and control measures carried out by experts to keep damaging insects and rodents at bay.

Poor building maintenance

Dangerous wiring, gas leaks, plumbing problems, leaking roofs and damp walls can all cause damage to both paper and electronic records. A regular building maintenance programme can help to reduce the risk from these elements.