9th November, 2022
Your project probably has more than one health and safety document, and merging documents into one file might seem like a good option. In this guide, we look at the disadvantages of merging and consider better ways to organise your project files.
One of the features we have been asked for is the ability to merge documents together. For example, merging all the risk assessments and method statements for a project into one big file.
But when we looked at the advantages and disadvantages of building a merge feature, we were shocked - it created more problems than it solved!
In this guide, we share a workaround that side-steps the issues that merging documents creates.
We don't have a merge feature on HASpod, because we don't think it's the best way to share project documents. The disadvantages might not seem so obvious on smaller projects, but once your project grows in size or complexity, merging documents just doesn't make sense.
Let's imagine you're creating a health and safety file for a project. The health and safety file document will probably refer to lots of other documents too. Like an asbestos survey, the as-built drawings, as-installed drawings, service records, safety manuals etc.
Appendices (reports, as-built drawings, manuals etc) can often go into hundreds or thousands of pages for some projects, so you'll have one massive file.
Now that all the files are merged together, what happens when someone needs to access one of the files - like the asbestos survey? They need to download all of the project files. If it's a gigantic file and they are out on site with a slow data connection, this could take a long time to download. And they then need to search through pages and pages of other information to find the asbestos survey.
There are a few problems that can happen when you start to merge all of your project files:
By merging all your documents, each individual document becomes harder to access. Unless your team really likes reading, you should only share the documents with them that are relevant to their work.
But if all your documents are merged together into a single file, you have to send them everything (and the kitchen sink!). And unless you are happy to let them know which pages apply to them, they could quickly get overwhelmed, and - more worryingly - miss the relevant information as they get lost in a sea of other documents.
You might also think that merging all your risk assessments and method statements together for a project means your team only has one document to sign. And that could be true. But what about when you need to make changes? What if you add a new risk assessment or update a method statement?
With the updates, the original merged file is invalid. You need to create a new version with the changes and communicate these changes to your team to understand and sign.
Now you have multiple documents (the thing you were trying to avoid) - version 1 and version 2 - with lots of duplicate content. Instead of just sharing the updated document, you have to share the updates with all of the other documents again (as one big merged file).
There's one advantage when you merge all your documents:
We racked our brains and honestly couldn't think of any other advantages. And even that is only an advantage if someone:
If someone only needs to access one of the merged documents, then it's much better to send them what they need rather than a bunch of other documents too.
And if the file is too big to email, it's just as easy to send multiple files in a folder via a file transfer service like WeTransfer or Dropbox.
Perhaps you could argue that it's easier to organise, but as you can arrange multiple files into folders - it's not really any easier having one file compared to multiple.
And it's harder to re-arrange or move the order of the individual documents once they are all merged.
It's fair to say the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages on this one!
By organising your project files into folders, you can access the document you need. If you need to send the decorator a risk assessment for painting, you can do that (without sending all the other documents for every other trade too).
For example, you could organise project files by type:
H&S Project X (Folder)
Or you could organise by activity or trade:
H&S Project X (Folder)
If you want (or need) to share all of the documents - instead of individually, you can do that too!
If you would like to send your documents as a single attachment, you can put your files into a folder and compress it.
compressed folderon windows, or
You can then email or share the compressed folder.
A more modern way to share your files is by using a file-sharing service. These can also have extra features like knowing when someone has accessed a file and electronic signatures.
The person you share with doesn't need to have an account with the file-sharing service - you can send the link via email. It's like an email attachment without the limitations!
Services you can use include:
A common situation with bigger health and safety reports is to add appendices. In the olden days (when we shared real folders with binders and dividers), you would add the appendix at the end of the folder. You can do this electronically too:
H&S File - Project X (Folder)
But wouldn't it be cool if when you refer to appendix-a you could link to the file? That way, the reader could click on the link to instantly open the file instead of looking in the folder for it.
Well, you can!
Another great way to share appendices or other related files is to link them with your document.
With the same folder structure detailed above, you can add a link in the health and safety report to
./appendix-a.pdf any time you mention appendix a throughout your document.
To link to a file in the same folder, the link should start with
./ and then the file name (e.g.
./filename.pdf) - (don't forget to add the file extension, e.g. if it's a pdf add
To link to a file in a subfolder, the link should start with
./ and then the folder name, and then the file name (e.g.
To add a link, highlight the text you want to turn into a link, and then click the link button within the editor.
Now, when someone clicks that link it will open the appendix-a document.
Merging all your documents together can create a massive file that is hard to share, access and update.
Creating folders to group documents together (rather than merging them) is a really good way to organise project files - without having one gigantic file containing multiple documents where it can be hard to access the exact document you need.
Linking within the document adds extra accessibility, as you can refer to other related documents and jump to the file you need with a single click, but also keep the ability to access an individual document on its own.
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