Failure to Shred Puts UK Businesses at Risk of Fraud and Fines

Wednesday, Jul 15th 2020

Survey from Quadient shows that more than a quarter of UK office workers surveyed sometimes or always throw sensitive documents into general waste at work, instead of shredding

Quadient (Euronext Paris: QDT), a leader in business solutions for meaningful customer connections through digital and physical channels, has today announced the findings of a survey* into attitudes and behaviours relating to storing and destroying sensitive printed materials in UK offices. The survey of 1001 UK office workers (excluding sole traders) conducted in April 2020, shows some concerning habits that could be putting businesses at risk of both fraud and fines for GDPR non-compliance and other failures to ensure privacy.

Key findings of the research include:

  • 26% of the UK office workers surveyed either always (7%) or sometimes (19%) throw sensitive documents into general waste instead of shredding
  • 16% of respondents never shred documents at work
  • Less than half of respondents who shred documents at work (48%) store their own documents that are waiting to be shredded or otherwise destroyed in a secure location
  • Just over 2 in 5 respondents (43%) say their organisations either don’t have a policy on shredding or otherwise destroying sensitive printed documents (24%) or, if there is one, they are unaware of it (19% don’t know)

“No one is perfect, and we expected to discover some bad habits, but the survey really does show some very concerning behaviour that could be putting businesses at serious risk of financial penalties and reputational damage,” said Matthew Lampton, head of document security solutions at Quadient. “What’s particularly concerning is that businesses are unlikely to have good visibility of what printed documents are in circulation, where they are stored and if or when they have been securely destroyed. The survey tells us that the employers of nearly half of those responding don’t have adequate policies in place or aren’t communicating them effectively. Routinely shredding sensitive documents as soon as they are no longer needed is something that all offices should make an essential practice.”

According to ongoing ICO reporting ‘Loss/theft of paperwork or data left in insecure location’ continues to be a leading cause of security incidents, with some sectors more vulnerable than others. The latest ICO quarterly reporting (Q3 2019/2020) indicates that there were some 253 incidents concerning loss or theft of paperwork in insecure locations, with the health sector being the worst affected (65 incidents). The Quadient survey also looked at how office workers in different sectors compared:

  • 16% of the overall sample never shred documents at work. By industry sector, 8% in finance and 4% in healthcare do not shred documents at work
  • Finance is the best industry for storing documents in a secure location while they are waiting to be shredded or otherwise destroyed, 58% of respondents in the finance sector who shred documents at work store them safely in a secure location. This falls to 46% for respondents in the healthcare sector who shred documents at work
  • Two thirds of respondents who shred documents at work and whose documents are not shredded/destroyed immediately (66%) have up to 50 pages of documents waiting to be shredded at work

“It’s interesting to see how some of these sectors stack up, with some quite surprising differences,” continues Lampton. “You’d expect organisations in some of these sectors to be generally more aware of the risks involved, but often it is those same organisations that deal with higher amounts of sensitive paperwork and therefore have to deal with employee complacency around processes. This is why, in addition to enforcing policy, workplaces should make it as simple, easy and fast as possible to destroy documents rather than have employees put it off or consider taking shortcuts.”

Quadient has prepared an infographic detailing the survey findings which can be found on the Quadient website here.

*Survey of 1,001 office workers in the UK (excluding sole traders) between 17.04.2020-21.04.2020 conducted by Censuswide