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Remote Auditing Of Management Standards

Will it change forever?

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POSTED BY ELLEN WILLOUGHBY ON 09/07/2020 @ 8:00AM

More from my colleague Tony, this time talking about the new reality of needing to do remote audits in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak where it was always face-to-face before. Over to you Tony ...

Remote auditing was unheard of prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, however, it's becoming more acceptable now!

Remote auditing was unheard of prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, however, it's becoming more acceptable now!

copyright: andreypopov / 123rf

If there's one thing we know about the pandemic, it's that businesses and organisations have had to find ways and means to do things that hitherto seemed unthinkable. At best these new remote auditing methods are in their infancy.

That's not to say the ideas weren't there, or that the technology didn't exist. Just that there's always a good reason not to change. Because, for the large part, we as humans don't like change. I may be the worst ... as a consultant I'm good at suggesting change and better ways for others to do things, but as a person, I'm reluctant to change my own ways.

"The shoeshine who doesn't shine his own shoes even!"

Even before the lockdown restrictions were introduced, businesses were scrambling to make changes to workplaces so that they would be COVID-19 secure and therefore safe for employees to continue working. Most businesses were quick to identify in their risk assessments that non-essential visitors and contractors should not be allowed onto site. The introduction of lockdown just exacerbated things as businesses had to make a judgement on whether they could carry on operating ... those that weren't forcibly closed through legislation, that is.

It was a time of great uncertainty arising from a totally unforeseen event which, apart from the immediate need to keep employees safe and re-arrange working, there was also continuity of supply and the sales order book to worry about. In the midst of all this turmoil, nobody was giving two hoots about auditing management standards such as ISO 9001.

On the other side of the coin, from my point of view as an auditor, I realised in the build up to lockdown that use of public transport and sitting in a room for a day with other people who might be infected with COVID-19 was an unacceptable risk.

Many others felt the same way. Notified bodies started to take a similar stance as they risk-assessed the growing threat from the virus and didn't want to subject their auditors to unnecessary risk.

It's probably fair to say that whilst lockdown restrictions endure, most businesses have put their internal auditing programme on hold (apart from perhaps auditing their COVID-19 protocol for safe working).

Not great news for us consultant auditors, but given the extraordinary circumstances, nobody should have an issue with this, provided that the audit plan has been revised and endorsed with the reason for change.

"External assessments by notified bodies, however, have
been a different story!"

In terms of continuing assessments, prior to the pandemic, remote audits were very rare. Now, like so many other institutions, the force for change has come to the fore and wherever possible, continuing assessments are taking place by video conference.

This experience hasn't been flawless though. In my first remote audit with a notified body, I was told they 'weren't allowed to host any video conferencing' and that it was 'down to the client to organise'. OK, well I thought I was paying for a service here ... then after 10 minutes we realised that the assessor's microphone on his laptop wasn't working. So much for that.

But I'm happy to say now that in my experience, the notified bodies have become much better organised, and do readily host video conferencing, typically using Cisco Webex or Microsoft Teams. And I too have got used to the process ... a video image of the assessor, screen sharing documents, the virtual free lunch ... although after 3 months I am still waiting on delivery of a decent webcam.

External assessments for initial certification have left some clients with a bad experience and a job half done, without them necessarily realising the implications. Part of the stage 2 audit has been done remotely, for which the client has been billed, but then the site visit has been deferred to a post-pandemic date later in the year. This leaves the client with a bill not only for the stage 1 assessment, but also for half of the stage 2 assessment, and no certificate of registration to show for it. Not ideal when the business has most likely taken a big hit on turnover and profit anyway.

"One word of warning about external assessments though!"

Even with remote auditing capabilities, notified bodies will have had a large number of deferments, as some businesses have been forced to close. Now that lockdown restrictions have lifted slightly, and more businesses are opening up again, site visits by notified bodies are now possible but only when necessary.

For example, at an initial assessment, a site tour is required. If your businesses still cannot accommodate visitors to site through your own protocol for safe working, you would do well to make sure that the assessment is deferred outside of any short notice cancellation period, otherwise, you may be charged for the cancelled assessment.

And my final thought is this: there may not have been many nonconformities raised through remote assessments in lockdown, but now is a good time to ensure that you have addressed COVID-19 and are operating safely; even if the business is only registered to ISO 9001:2015, this could be looked at since it is a legal requirement.

Also revisit your risks and opportunities register and make sure that you have adequately addressed 'disease and epidemic' for any future similar occurrence (heaven forbid)!

Will things change on a permanent basis? Yes, I'm sure they will. I for one don't miss driving to clients premises, although I do understand that sometimes it will be necessary. Notified bodies have proved that external assessments can work well provided the IT infrastructure is in place; it is now well established as a protocol.

One can see that clients could be offered a choice by notified bodies for some if not all assessments, and who knows, the reduced costs of remote assessments may be passed on to clients as an incentive to take up the option.

Watch this space.

Until next time ...

ELLEN WILLOUGHBY

Would you like to know more?

A huge thank you to my colleague Tony Foster for this week's blog post!

If you're interested in remote auditing to ensure you're in full compliance, why not call us on 01858 414226, leave a comment below or click here to ping over an email and let's see how we can help.

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About Ellen Willoughby ...

 

I'm Ellen, Director of All About Quality and All About Productivity. I have over 20 years experience as professional in the quality world and 17 years as a practising Buddhist. As a result of this, I have a passion for improvement. in both business and personal life.

Telephone:

01858 414226

Website:

http://www.allaboutquality.co.uk