In many organizations, audits have a negative connotation. Some view them as box-checking busy-work, while others fear that the auditor is trying to ‘catch’ them in some form of non-compliance. In reality, an ISO 14001 internal audit presents a genuine opportunity for improvement. The maximum benefit can be realized with proper preparation.
Establish a Schedule
One simple aid in effective internal audit preparation is a regular audit schedule. Clearly define the interval for auditing each process of your Environmental Management System (EMS). Audits scheduled on a cyclical basis will be easiest to maintain. It is generally best to avoid bunching audits together, as this can disrupt other workflow and degrade the quality of the audits performed. Chose an audit cycle length appropriate to each system; more critical systems may need to be audited more frequently. Make sure that audit schedules are readily available to employees and management so that all have adequate time to prepare.
Make a Plan
With all parties involved well aware of upcoming audits, the next step in preparation is to come up with an effective plan. The overall auditing procedure will progress much more efficiently if both the person performing the audit and the person in charge of the particular process being audited collaborate in the planning.
The most important part of audit planning is a detailed review of the process that will be examined. The purpose of the internal audit is, in essence, to see how well the process is performing when compared against its planned environmental aspects. The goal, then, is to achieve a clear, practical understanding of these environmental aspects. Here again, collaboration with the person in charge of the process is beneficial and constructive, since he or she is best qualified to communicate these accurately. With this understanding now established, identify the type of data that will most meaningfully demonstrate the relationship between plan and practice. Finally, draft an audit plan that will effectively capture this data.
Evaluate Your Plan
ISO 9001:2011 provides guidelines for conducting internal audits. Evaluating your audit plan against these guidelines will shine a light on any gaps that exist between the two. Adjusting your plan to bridge these gaps will ensure that your internal audit also leaves your organization well prepared for external audits when they arise.
When preparing a plan for an internal audit, keep the purpose of the audit in mind. The primary purpose of an internal audit is to confirm or improve the effectiveness of the processes of an EMS. Granted, internal audits are also used to declare compliance to external entities, and thus an internal audit is useful in identifying shortcomings. But resist the common mistake of getting sidetracked by focusing entirely on the minutia of standards compliance. This will distract you from identifying opportunities to improve in implementing your EMS. Through effective preparation, internal audits will actively help your organization to reduce waste, limit environmental impact, and improve efficiency.