Management system remote auditing during COVID-19

The COVID-19 crisis has brought immense challenges; forcing businesses to adapt quickly. This is also true for those operating within the certification industry. In response, UKAS has empowered assessment bodies to use technology that enables management system remote auditing. Wiser Environment has recently successfully run a remote ISO certification audit with BSI on behalf of a client and feels that this method of assessment will become more common – not just during the lockdown period. Companies need to prepare for change.

A number of certified organisations have been questioning how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect their management systems. For many companies, maintaining certification is business-critical. This is especially true for those who are currently non-operational due to COVID-19. These businesses will want to be immediately back up and running when the pandemic is over. They will require the credibility certification bestows.

In acknowledgement of these issues, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS) are collaborating on a webinar series. The ‘Adapting to COVID19’ webinar series addresses the challenges the certification industry faces. The Wiser Environment integrated management system (IMS) experts sit in on these webinars and distil the information for clients.

UK Accreditation Service’s approach

During the webinar hosted on the 15th of April, UKAS expressed that existing guidance will help inform their approach. This existing guidance is from the International Accreditation Forum (IAF). The guidance document referenced was ‘IAK Informative Document for Management of Extraordinary Events or Circumstances Affecting Abs, CABs and Certified Organisations’ (IAF ID3:2011). Whilst the IAF’s report was published prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it does offer suitable guidelines for handling such events. Furthermore, the IAF are frequently updating their COVID-19 FAQs.

From a UK perspective, UKAS are set to publish their own technical policy statement: ‘UKAS Policy on Accreditation and Conformity Assessment During the Coronavirus Outbreak’ (TPS 73). As of writing, the TPS 73 is currently in draft for consultation.

The UKAS Strategic Development Director, Jeff Ruddle, proposes that the aim of the guidance is to outline the appropriate course of action for conformity assessment bodies (CABs). Ruddle suggests that a level of remote assessment is achievable in all scenarios. Adding that UKAS are working closely with their CABs in order to maintain consistency. However, Ruddle does postulate that it is inevitable that each CAB will approach this pandemic slightly differently. This is because of external market and industry factors.

UKAS also made a provision to extend certificates requiring recertification audits during the pandemic. The decision for recertification must be made within 3-months of the lifting of the COVID-19 travel restrictions. However, Ruddle warns that if the timeframe exceeds 12-months then the certificate should be suspended and a new initial audit will be required.

Management system remote auditing

With the additional support from UKAS, it is likely that CABs will still conduct surveillance auditing and renewal assessments. Wiser understands that all of these audits will proceed remotely; utilising the various digital conferencing platforms available. This stance will likely remain in place until at least the 31st of July.

During the remote audit, an added focus will be on the system records. These include internal audit reports, management review records and key performance monitoring data. This will enable businesses, where remote oversight of operational activities is restricted, to still be assessed.

The Wiser Environment IMS team recently completed their first remote audit. Representing a client, Wiser used the Webex conference platform to communicate with the CAB – BSI. The sharing of information between the client, Wiser and BSI was seamless. Resulting in a successful audit for the client.

The Wiser Environment Consultancy Director, Charles Thomas, reflects positively about the remote audit:

“The BSI audit was very thorough. The remote nature of the audit enabled BSI to undertake a more considered review of system documentation as process operations could not be reviewed. BSI worked with us to overcome any difficulties in achieving the audit plan, amending the scope of the audit and rescheduling operational activities until the next schedules surveillance audit due in 6 months time.”

Preparing for remote assessment

Wiser Environment recommends that businesses should prepare for their remote assessment. They should take some additional time to consider what resources, both human and technical, they have available.

On the day, the auditor may need access to electronic records. For this reason, the auditee should familiarise themselves with the functionality of their preferred digital conferencing platform (e.g. Microsoft Team, Skype and GoToMeeting).

Wiser Environment is ready and available to support businesses with their remote assessment. In preparation, Wiser can organise a remote internal audit of the IMS. This will provide confidence that the system’s documentation is of a suitable standard for assessment. For more information contact Wiser Environment or call on 01480 462232.

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