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Maintaining vs. Retaining Documents – What’s the Difference?

Maintaining vs. Retaining Documents – What’s the Difference?

I get asked some curly questions sometimes in this business – some real head-scratchers!  Sometimes I have to say “I’ll have to get back to you on that one” or “I’m not sure if I can advise you on that” or “Well, I’m 31, but people say I look younger”!  But sometimes I get asked really interesting, thoughtful questions – about quality management, no less!  These are the ones I love. I got one of these questions the other day.  One of my favourite clients turned to me and asked:

ISO 9001 says you have to ‘maintain’ some QMS documents, and that you have to ‘retain’ others. What’s the difference?

“Good question,” I said.  But luckily, I did know the answer to this one.

Maintaining a document means that the document must be kept and also kept up to date.  So in a quality management system, you might maintain your QMS policy, quality objectives, any procedures you have, and so on, by keeping the documents and periodically reviewing and revising them.

Retaining a document means that the document must be kept unchanged.  So again in the quality management system example, you might retain QMS management review records, documentation of nonconformities, internal audit reports, and so on.  An easy way to remember is that records must be retained.

So there you have it – the difference between “maintain” and “retain”.  Only a few letters, but a big difference.

Got a quality management question of your own?  I’d love to hear it.  Feel free to contact us.


To maintain or retain?
Photo by mconnors at Morguefile.com