Environment / Food Safety / Quality / Safety
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All types of business and operational processes demand a variety of audits and inspections to evaluate compliance with standards—ranging from government regulations, to industry codes, to system standards (e.g., ISO), to internal corporate requirements. Audits offer a systematic, objective tool to assess compliance across the workplace and to identify any opportunities for improvement.
Routine internal audits are becoming a larger part of organizational learning and development. They provide a valuable way to communicate performance to decision makers and key stakeholders. Even more importantly, audits help companies identify areas of noncompliance and opportunities for improvement.
For some audits, a company may work with a third-party auditor. This can be valuable in getting an objective assessment of overall compliance status if executed effectively. Here are some best practice tips to help prepare for an internal audit—and ensure that it goes smoothly:
- Audit scope: Make sure that the scope of the audit is well defined and documented (i.e., regulations, management system standards, company policies). This also involves identifying which areas and functions onsite are included. For example, if contractors are leasing space, are their areas in scope or out? What about other onsite lessees, if any?
- Documents, plans, and records: Prior to the audit, ask the auditor for a list of documents they may be looking for (e.g., OSHA logs, past audit findings). Depending on the nature of the audit, it can be an extensive list and knowing ahead of time will save time and money. If possible, collect all records in advance and have them easily accessible. If corporate policy allows, it is often advisable to send current versions of all facility-specific plans, permits, and other documents to the auditor in advance of the audit to aid in preparation and create a more efficient use of time onsite. When the auditor arrives, make sure you know where relevant records are and that they are available to the auditor (i.e., not locked up in someone else’s office). Records should be organized by type in separate folders and sorted by date. Not only does that save time, it creates less likelihood of a record being overlooked. In most cases, electronic versions of records are sufficient, as long as they can be easily retrieved and viewed on the computer.
- Interviews: Advise individuals who may be interviewed during the audit about the purpose of the audit. Communicate well in advance of the audit so that employees aren’t caught off guard when they see an individual walking around taking notes and pictures. Prepare your employees; encourage them to cooperate and provide helpful information when asked. Every employee should:
- Be aware of the company quality/environmental/safety/food safety policy and able to state it in their own words.
- Be aware of the quality/environmental/safety/food safety objectives the company has set for the current time period (i.e., what the company is working on to improve the current “state”).
- Understand how they “make a difference” (i.e., how just by doing their jobs, they are following company policy and objectives and impacting performance).
- Be knowledgeable about the procedures and practices required for doing their job properly.
- Schedule: Ask for an audit schedule. This can help you plan for when certain “in-the-know” people need to be available. This can save valuable time—especially for those individuals—and help ensure that those you absolutely need for the audit are available when you need them.
- Be available: Questions often arise during an audit. It is helpful to assure that qualified and knowledgeable personnel are available to answer questions and clarify information during the audit, in addition to being present during the audit debriefing.
- Housekeeping: Good housekeeping puts auditors at ease. Conversely, lax housekeeping is often a harbinger of compliance issues and may put auditors on heightened alert.
- Care of a third-party auditor: Make sure there is adequate work space available for the auditor to review records and other documents—with power, a desk or table, good lighting, and access to internet/email to exchange documents during the audit.
- Confidentiality: If the audit scope involves regulatory compliance and the company has elected to employ audit privilege mechanisms, make sure that all parties are aware of the means to be taken to ensure that audit privilege is preserved (e.g., marking notes and documents, limiting distribution of output, adhering to state-specific requirements).