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Audit Program Best Practices: Part 2

16 Aug
Audit program best practices

BY: Stacey Pisani

Environment / Food Safety / Quality / Safety

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Audits provide an essential tool for improving and verifying compliance performance. As discussed in Part 1, there are a number of audit program elements and best practices that can help ensure a comprehensive audit program. Here are 12 more tips to put to use:

  1. Action item closure. Address repeat findings. Identify patterns and seek root cause analysis and sustainable corrections.
  2. Training. Training should be done throughout the entire organization, across all levels:
    • Auditors are trained on both technical matters and program procedures.
    • Management is trained on the overall program design, purpose, business impacts of findings, responsibilities, corrections, and improvements.
    • Line operations are trained on compliance procedures and company policy/systems.
  3. Communications. Communications with management should be done routinely to discuss status, needs, performance, program improvements, and business impacts. Communications should be done in business language—with business impacts defined in terms of risks, costs, savings, avoided costs/capital expenditures, benefits. Those accountable for performance need to be provided information as close to “real time” as possible, and the Board of Directors should be informed routinely.
  4. Leadership philosophy. Senior management should exhibit top-down expectations for program excellence. EHSMS quality excellence goes hand-in-hand with operational and service quality excellence. Learning and continual improvement should be emphasized.
  5. Roles & responsibilities. Clear roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities need to be established. This includes top management understanding and embracing their roles/responsibilities. Owners of findings/fixes also must be clearly identified.
  6. Funding for corrective actions. Funding should be allocated to projects based on significance of risk exposure (i.e., systemic/preventive actions receive high priority). The process should incentivize proactive planning and expeditious resolution of significant problem areas and penalize recurrence or back-sliding on performance and lack of timely fixes.
  7. Performance measurement system. Audit goals and objectives should be nested with the company business goals, key performance objectives, and values. A balanced scorecard can display leading and lagging indicators. Metrics should be quantitative, indicative (not all-inclusive), and tied to their ability to influence. Performance measurements should be communicated and widely understood. Information from auditing (e.g., findings, patterns, trends, comparisons) and the status of corrective actions often are reported on compliance dashboards for management review.
  8. Degree of business integration. There should be a strong link between programs, procedures, and methods used in a quality management program—EHS activities should operate in patterns similar to core operations rather than as ancillary add-on duties. In addition, EHS should be involved in business planning and MOC. An EHSMS should be well-developed and designed for full business integration, and the audit program should feed critical information into the EHSMS.
  9. Accountability. Accountability and compensation must be clearly linked at a meaningful level. Use various award/recognition programs to offer incentives to line operations personnel for excellent EHS performance. Make disincentives and disciplinary consequences clear to discourage non-compliant activities.
  10. Deployment plan & schedule. Best practice combines the use of pilot facility audits, baseline audits (to design programs), tiered audits, and a continuous improvement model. Facility profiles are developed for all top priority facilities, including operational and EHS characteristics and regulatory and other requirements.
  11. Relation of audit program to EHSMS design & improvement objectives. The audit program should be fully interrelated with the EHSMS and feed critical information on systemic needs into the EHSMS design and review process. It addresses the “Evaluation of Compliance” element under EHSMS international standards (e.g., ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001). Audit baseline helps identify common causes, systemic issues, and needed programs. The EHSMS addresses root causes and defines/improves preventive systems and helps integrate EHS with core operations. Audits further evaluate and confirm performance of EHSMS and guide continuous improvement.
  12. Relation to best practices. Inventory best practices and share/transfer them as part of audit program results. Use best-in-class facilities as models and “problem sites” for improvement planning and training.  The figure below illustrates an audit program that goes beyond the traditional “find it, fix it, find it, fix it” repetitive cycle to one that yields real understanding of root causes and patterns. In this model, if the issues can be categorized and are of wide scale, the design of solutions can lead to company-wide corrective and preventive measures. This same method can be used to capture and transfer best practices across the organization. They are sustained through the continual review and improvement cycle of an EHSMS and are verified by future audits.

Improving by Analyzing Audit Results

 

Read the part 1 audit program best practices. 

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