The COVID-19 pandemic brought many businesses to a standstill. Other organisations have had to work harder to meet the needs of customers or service users, while maintaining protective measures.
Under these circumstances, organisations planning audits to ISO management standards such as ISO 45001, for Occupational Health and Safety Management, might have put their programmes on hold.
However, verification bodies such as Lloyds Register, NQA the British Safety Council (BSC) are all offering remote audits.
Motivated by cost-savings for the client, and the environmental drive to reduce unnecessary travel, many accreditation organisations had already been moving in this direction. Onsite time could be reduced by doing more of the preparation remotely, and re-certification audits were able to use remote document checks and “video visits.”
Now remote audits have become a necessity. For example, Lloyds Register acknowledge that there are normally restrictions on how far remote auditing can be used, but make it clear that for the “duration of the current pandemic, there are NO restrictions placed on the application of remote audit against these standards.”
So, if you are considering a remote audit, what will you need?
Remote auditors will still need to speak to a range of people in the organisation. Worker participation is an essential element of ISO 45001, so as well as asking managers how they involve workers, the auditor will want to ask workers if they feel involved.
If workers are at home, agree how and when auditors can communicate with each participant. Using online platforms can protect the confidentiality of a worker’s home contact details, but check they have the ability to use it.
While some conversations might be on the telephone, it is easier to discuss documents when both people are literally reading off the same page.
Video conferencing systems such as Zoom have become popular, and systems such as MS Teams, Google and WhatsApp have video messaging built in. To use video you’ll need a webcam, either built into your computer, or as an add on. Mobile phones can be used, but while these are adequate for video meetings with two or three people, they are not idea for larger groups.
3. Site Tour
If you can safely access your workplace you can provide the auditor with a video tour using your mobile phone. If the location is closed, or if distancing requirements would make it impractical to walk around the workplace, what other resources do you have that could show the auditor what the workplace is like?
Schematics, layout plans and site maps are a good start, but can you annotate these with photographs, or even with videos that might have been taken for another purpose? For initial certification, auditors might still need to make a visit once circumstances allow, but the more you can show them remotely, the quicker the process will be.
The key information you need to assemble fit around the plan – do – check – act structure of ISO 45001.
Although the default approach with remote audits is for client organisations to save all the data and other information as electronic documents so that they can be uploaded to the verifier’s system, there are easier ways.
The British Safety Council and NQA confirmed that in many circumstances they can extract the information they need for an external audit from client organisation's cloud-based management systems.