Please see below for FAQs relating to remote assessments. This list will be added to regularly when new questions become available.
Last Updated: 08/06/20
- How will technical activities be witnessed?
This will depend on how your business is currently operating and the technical activities in question. Our ultimate aim is to confirm ongoing technical competence but we acknowledge the need to be pragmatic about how this can be achieved and also the extent to which it can be demonstrated. UKAS has previously successfully undertaken witnessing by remote means for a variety of different types of customers, so this is achievable. UKAS’s preferred option is to witness the technical activity by ‘live stream’. However, where this is not possible a recording of the technical activity which can be played back by the assessor with the relevant member of staff on hand to explain is a suitable alternative. If it is not possible to witness the activity as it is not currently being performed, then a vertical audit (e.g. post audit review) of recent work with the relevant staff member on hand to explain to the assessor may be an option. Where there is no recent work then a technical interview with authorised staff could also be considered as an option. Successful remote witnessing in any of these forms requires good internet connection with audio, visual and potentially screen sharing of suitable quality to enable the assessor to interact with your staff and view the activity being performed. UKAS’ preferred software application for this is Microsoft Teams, but should this not be acceptable to the customer we can alternatively use Skype, Zoom or GoToMeeting. It is also possible for UKAS to use the customers own web-conferencing solution if that is accessible to us. If it is determined that ongoing technical competence cannot be adequately determined by remote means then this part of the assessment will need to be delayed until COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted and a site visit by the assessor can be arranged.
- Are there any differences as to how on-site technical activities are witnessed compared to those at a permanent facility?
The techniques and technology used are broadly similar. However, where live streaming is being utilised the CAB will need to check there is suitable WiFi or 4G connectivity at the site to facilitate a remote assessment in advance of planning it in.
Where the technical activity takes place over a long period of time there is a need to plan and coordinate with the assessor such that they can efficiently witness the key stages of the technical activity rather than them spending long periods watching parts of the process that are irrelevant or unproductive.
- What happens to the activities you cannot witness?
These will need to be covered by an on-site visit. This may be once the COVID-19-related restrictions have been lifted. However, depending on the significance of the activities based on a risk-based perspective and dependent upon where the customer is with respect to its accreditation cycle (I.e. if it is due for a surveillance rather than a reassessment) then some may be deferred to the next scheduled visit.
- Will there be flexibility in the time we have to close out any findings from assessments when we have lower numbers of staff or cannot access the site to correct issues?
Yes, flexibility is possible on each improvement action. Please discuss this at the time the action is raised (or during the closing meeting) and agree a suitable date to submit evidence with the assessor. If you’ve already had your assessment and are the restrictions now in place are making it difficult to supply evidence to close out the finding. Then please contact your Assessment Manager to agree a timeframe in which evidence can be supplied.
- Is a demonstration of the technical activity when we don’t have any current work acceptable for assessment?
Yes, where your business is still operational but you do not have any actual technical activity being conducted then the use of a demonstration is likely to be an acceptable alternative to “real” work as long as it is representative of the whole process and adequately demonstrates technical competence. Please discuss your particular situation with your assessment team who will ensure that a mock-up will provide a sufficiently robust mechanism to confirm competence.
- Currently we can’t perform some of our normal activities such as internal auditing – what will UKAS consider acceptable?
CABs should review what it is possible for them to do under the restrictions that are in place. UKAS recognises that not all activities that are required under the standard can be performed exactly as before but where the CAB needs to deviate from its management system it needs to document why it is deviating and explain how it feels the deviation provides a level of assurance that is fit-for-purpose and based on the associated risk.
- We currently aren’t able to use some suppliers/supplies e.g. calibration services, PT, Reagents. What is the process for changing these or having alternatives accepted?
UKAS recognises that CABs may find it difficult to source services and supplies from its usual approved suppliers. In some cases (such as external calibration) the service may simply not be available during this period. In these cases the CAB should implement best endeavours (with calibration for example – is some level of in house calibration or even inter-laboratory checks possible or could additional in-use checks be performed until such time as a full calibration can be conducted).
UKAS recognises that not all activities that are required under the standard can be performed exactly as before but where the CAB needs to deviate from its management system it needs to document why it is deviating and explain how it feels the deviation provides a level of assurance that is fit-for-purpose and based on the associated risk.
- Is it acceptable for an Inspection Body to use remote means (e.g. video or live streaming) to check the readiness of an inspection job before sending inspectors to site?
Yes, this is acceptable although determining when an inspector needs to attend forms part of the routine functions of the inspection body. If the IB is deviating from it’s normal (accredited) procedure it will need to document the differences and provide a risk-based justification to ensure the procedure remains fit for purpose.
(Generally, the decision on whether to deploy inspectors does not form part of the accredited activity – if the inspection item is not ready to be inspected then it would result in re-work for the IB and delay for the end customer but no impact on the validity of the inspection performed)
- Can organisations conduct their own internal audits remotely? Either of work on site or of staff working from home?
Yes, undertaking internal audits is feasible if you are confident that the area or activity can be audited effectively. This may include audit by way of document review of records or reports, etc, which can be further supplemented by interviews with staff involved via phone or web-meeting. Site work can be trickier to audit but is possible using video conferencing or recording, as discussed in other FAQs relating to how UKAS undertake assessment of on-site activities remotely.
- We have moved to conducting some technical activities remotely, how will UKAS assess these?
If you are performing your technical activities remotely then it may be possible for UKAS to be included on the remote viewing/web-conferencing solution that you are using to enable us to assess the remote activity directly. Where this is the case please contact your Assessment Manager to discuss how this can be achieved.
- Will previous performance be considered in determining what is covered at a remote assessment?
Yes, in planning any type of assessment UKAS considers a CABs previous performance. Therefore, when planning a remote assessment during the COVID-19 pandemic we shall be taking a risk-based approach and those bodies that have previously demonstrated good performance will, as before, potentially be regarded as lower risk and this is likely to influence our sampling approach.
- What are the implications should we need to postpone our assessment until later in the year as we cannot accommodate any form of assessment?
We are encouraging accredited customers to continue with their routine assessments wherever possible, to provide ongoing confidence in supply chains, even if we are only able to complete some of the key elements of the assessment.
For companies that are continuing to operate at this time, this ensures that we can provide your customers and stakeholders with confidence that your revised operating practises are in line with accreditation requirements. For businesses that are not fully operating at this time, conducting some aspect of the UKAS assessment will allow UKAS to maintain your accreditation, meaning that when you come to restart your business, your accreditation will be in place to support you.
If your organisation is not operating at all at this time, please contact your Assessment Manager to discuss your specific circumstances so that we can agree an approach that will support your business whilst maintaining the confidence that accreditation provides.
From UKAS’ standpoint, continuing with our assessment programme is important from a resource perspective to avoid an unmanageable backlog of assessment work towards the end of the year which would impact our ability to deliver services to our customers consistently and effectively.
- Can recent recording we have used for our own internal audits be used to cover witnessing of technical activities?
Yes, where these recordings are recent, demonstrate the current process and involve currently authorised staff then they may be used for our assessment.
- Ongoing competency (staff witnessing) assessments are difficult to perform due to social distancing. What measures or deviations to this process would be acceptable to UKAS in order to maintain quality assurance?
Whilst acknowledging that this can be difficult, there are various innovative ways that a CAB can employ with respect to staff witnessing. It shall be the responsibility of the CAB to identify how best they can do this and justify the approach to UKAS. Examples can be live streaming or use of recordings, in the same way that UKAS may use for remote assessments. If these are unavailable then ongoing competence can be considered through techniques such as staff interview (telephone/web) testing of QC samples (test labs), case-file review (CBs), etc. The important point is that the CAB is confident that the techniques employed are sufficient to provide confidence in the ongoing competence of its staff.
- Where there are expected timeframes between activities (e.g. calibration of equipment or witnessing of staff) and this cannot be achieved due to the current restrictions, is there any flexibility to delay these activities?
During this challenging period there is some flexibility allowed although the CAB should consider the impact and alternatives as part of its own risk assessment. The CAB might decide to take different approaches (For example, performing their own calibrations rather than bringing in an external contractor) which must be considered within their own risk analysis.
Where such an assessment indicates that the risk to quality of service is too high, then the CAB should consider ceasing operations until the risk can be satisfactorily addressed.
- Where a CAB conducts its activity remotely (e.g. an audit or an inspection) does UKAS expect the CAB to retain a recording of that remote activity?
If an organisation is conducting accredited activities remotely, we would expect them to retain appropriate records. It may be that the easiest mechanism is to retain recordings but as long as it is possible to establish an appropriate audit trail this does not necessarily need to be the recording itself.
- Does a remote certification audit replace the requirement for an on-site audit during that year of the audit programme?
In principle, depending upon the effectiveness of the remote audit, this can replace the on-site audit although each case should be considered based on the risks to the integrity of the certification, the requirements of any certification scheme and the obligations within IAF Publication MD4. In addition the following IAF FAQs need to be taken in to consideration:
- If a CBs client is not operating from its site or has furloughed its staff, is it possible to conduct stage-2 certification audit remotely that allows for certification to be granted?
In principle this is possible although each case should be considered based on the risks to the integrity of the certification. A key part of auditing the implementation of a management system is interviewing a sample of the personnel, therefore if they are not available due to furlough then this could well affect the effectiveness of the audit. The obligations within IAF Publication MD 4 and the following IAF FAQs need to be taken in to consideration:
- Will I get the assessment team I was originally planned to have?
Wherever possible we will endeavour to retain the same assessment team but obviously if the staff are unavailable due to illness then we may need to substitute an assessor – we will always discuss this with you and you will always be assessed by someone who is technically competent and appropriately trained and authorised.
- What timeframe should we be expecting our Assessment Manager to contact us in advance of the assessment?
At the moment, with the amount of work that is needing to be rescheduled, the timeframes for our Assessment Managers to make contact with customers for upcoming visits is often only a matter of days. We are encouraging staff to trial the mechanisms for assessment at least a week in advance of any visit. Obviously as we progress through the lockdown period, our administration of rescheduling visits will improve meaning that the lead times will also improve and you will be contacted further in advance of your visit.
- Once government measures are lifted will we be back to normal of on-site assessments or will some aspect of remote assessing remain?
UKAS is reviewing and considering government guidance on returning to operations following easing of restrictions. It is unlikely that we will return immediately to our previous assessment techniques and it is more likely that we will focus on phasing in the technical witnessed activities when visits resume.
Prior to the pandemic UKAS was reviewing the way in which we conduct our assessments. The pandemic has meant that we have universally implemented some of our proposals without being able to conduct the trials we would normally conduct. Remote assessments have proven very successful and whilst it will not entirely replace face-to-face assessment we will continue to use it in support of our routine visits to a much greater extent going forwards.
- We have furloughed all of our technical staff, can an assessment still be performed?
Potentially yes. As a minimum, the assessment could consist of a remote review of historic documentation such as internal audits, any complaint investigations and management review minutes emailed to UKAS and a subsequent tele-conference. As long as there is still a basic level of staffing who can access relevant documentation this is possible and will provide UKAS with the critical information needed for us to be able to maintain accreditation.
- Some of our documentation is hard copy at our facility that is now closed, how will this be assessed?
Where records are not accessible remotely then they will need to be followed up on-site later. Depending on how significant the records are this may be conducted as a separate activity or rolled into next year’s assessment.
- With social distancing it may not be easy for a second person to film the technical activity – is it okay to have a static camera if the person being assessed requires both hands for the activity?
As long as the static camera captures everything required to demonstrate competence then this should be fine. In some circumstances the person being assessed may need to move the camera to get a close-up or a different angle, therefore the camera need to have some mobility. In addition there needs to be an audio link so that the assessor can ask questions or provide direction to that person.
- If we have multi-site accreditation will the remote assessment cover all sites or just the HQ?
We will have planned as part of your 4 Year Accreditation Cycle to sample your sites at a frequency that is relevant to the activities you perform at those sites. This plan will be carried forward into any remote assessments that are performed, using a risk based approach to determine the best way to conduct an effective assessment. As part of that planning, we will manage any differing restrictions you may have in place at your separate sites.
- How will the witnessing of tests that take a long period of time to perform be conducted?
Remote assessment potentially makes this easier than it would have been via a normal on-site assessment because it is easier to break up the assessment so that the assessor is only conducting their witnessing when critical activities are happening. How this can be achieved can be discussed prior to the assessment or at the opening meeting and agreed by all parties.
- I want/need to extend my scope. What is the process currently?
UKAS is still accepting applications for Extension to Scope at this time. However, our priority is to complete surveillance and reassessments to ensure that accreditation can be maintained or renewed. Where possible we will assess extensions to scope.
If the extension to scope requires the witnessing of technical activity (i.e. it is significantly different to existing activities on your schedule of accreditation) then the assessment can begin and cover aspects that can be conducted remotely but it may not be completed until after restriction are lifted.
If the extension to scope is for an activity that is similar to existing activities on your schedule of accreditation then it will be possible to conduct the assessment of the application remotely
- Can I still extend my scope of accreditation?
Whilst our primary objective during the current situation is maintaining and renewing accredited activities (and therefore providing ongoing confidence in supply chains) we are, wherever possible, continuing to undertake assessment of extension to scope (ETS) applications. Many ETS requests are simply minor additions or adaptations of existing accredited techniques and can be assessed remotely – either as a desk assessment or using remote tools (because the risk is generally relatively low).
Where new techniques or sectors are the subject of the application it is likely that we can progress the project to the point where we need to undertake witnessed activity, but it is unlikely we would be able to grant accreditation until we are able to witness the activity, as the risk of doing so is likely to be too high to be acceptable.
In summary, all ETS applications will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and your assessment manager will contact you to discuss how best to proceed. NB: Applications in support of the COVID-19 effort will obviously be prioritised.
Any applications currently in being processed in our system will proceed on the same basis as proposed above.
- Following our remote assessment, will we need a further onsite assessment within 6 months?
Our aim is to complete all assessment activity remotely wherever possible.
When technical activities cannot be reviewed as part of the remote assessment, we will need to take a risk-based approach as to whether it is necessary to conduct a further (on-site) visit when restrictions are eased. Any such decision will be discussed and agreed with you during your remote assessment.
- Usually part of an assessment involves observing the work environment. How is that possible in the current situation and how can you assure that the workplace reflects what is on paper or seen virtually?
Observing the work environment is key to ensuring the conformity with required standards for many of our customers. Whilst it is possible to conduct some of this remotely by viewing records of environmental monitoring or via live streaming or video for example, it does not replace experiencing the environment in person.
As such, at this time UKAS will, as far as is practicable, use remote means to evaluate the environment and assess records to determine suitability. However, as restrictions are eased some element of on-site assessment will re-commence, allowing us to cover this area during future assessments.
- How do you manage witnessed audits when the CB and UKAS have differing processes or requirements covering the carrying out of remote audits? Who’s process takes precedence?
As UKAS is observing the CB’s audit then we will be using the web-conferencing solution and processes that has been agreed between the CB and their client. There should be no need to alter the auditing process to accommodate UKAS witnessing.
The role of UKAS is to determine the competence of the CB, and therefore when witnessing an audit, we will need to witness the processes and techniques being used by the CB at the time. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the CB to agree with its customer how it intends to proceed (ensuring that this is in compliance with any scheme requirements) and discuss with UKAS how best we can observe the audit taking place.
- What time commitment is there to becoming a technical assessor?
During the pilot those appointed will be operating as technical experts under the guidance of a Lead Assessor so for training purposes there will be a technical assessor briefing and then commitment to undertake a pilot assessment (1-2 days), if an organisation has a pre-assessment (1 day) plus associated office time. Once operational technical assessors may be invited for Standard Awareness training and Technical Assessor Training (min 3 days), an observation visit 1 day, and they will then be asked to participate in an assessment – which may be 2-3 days. As part of agreeing a contract with a Technical Assessor/Expert their availability will be discussed. Once allocated to a SARC it would be hoped that the Technical Assessor/Expert would fulfil that commitment for the duration of the four-year cycle.
- How can remote assessments be performed if we have poor internet access?
If internet access is poor then it is likely that this will seriously restrict the scope of a remote assessment. Some activities can still proceed if requested documents can be shared with the assessment team in advance (ideally electronically) and then discussed via telephone/teleconference. However, it is likely that some form of on-site follow-up assessment will be required once COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted.
- Are there any limitations on the number of people from our company that can attend aspects of the remote assessment?
The use of web-conferencing allows you to more easily bring in a variety of staff to discuss specific issues as and when required which can be seen as an improvement over on-site meetings. Most web-conferencing solutions can manage many tens to a couple of hundred participants, so there should not be a limitation which is unworkable. However, managing a web meeting with a high number of participants can be very difficult and it is therefore suggested that meetings are limited to the number of attendees who need to be there at that time. The structure and format of the remote assessment will be discussed and agreed prior to the assessment commencing.
- If we can provide remote access to our systems is that something that UKAS can use to support its remote assessments?
In principle yes, where UKAS can access the system this is possible. However, it is the customer’s responsibility to provide details of the product in advance and assurances that it is secure and presents no risk to the integrity of UKAS’s data or systems. Additionally, if your company requires UKAS to agree to additional confidentiality/security arrangements to enable this access, we recommend contacting us significantly in advance of the assessment as this may take some time to arrange.
- What happens to the documentation that is shared with the UKAS assessment teams during the remote assessment?
Whilst the volume of documentation exchanged for a remote assessment is larger than that exchanged for traditional on-site assessments, how UKAS handles and retains the documentation is generally unchanged from that in our standard procedure. The use of file sharing sites does bring in some changes however and it should be noted that these sites will not be used for document retention. As such, documents will only be retained on file sharing sites for as long as they are needed to complete the assessment and related activities and will then be removed – any files that UKAS subsequently retain will be discussed and agreed between the customer and the assessment team.
- Remote assessments can be affected by connectivity issues. Will UKAS have backup 'Remote Assessment' applications available?
Yes, a key part of planning and preparing for the assessment is for UKAS to agree with the customer what web-conferencing solution(s) will be used and what the backup is.
Th ultimate fall-back position is to use teleconferencing via landline or mobile phone and as such the assessment team and key personnel at the customer should exchange contact numbers prior to, or at the beginning of, the assessment.
- Will we be charged any expenses for a remote assessment?
No – All remote assessments will be charged at the office day-rate currently quoted in our terms and conditions of business (available from the UKAS website), and there will be no travel or subsistence (T & S) costs incurred. The only exception to this would be if there are costs that are required for the assessment (remote or otherwise) that do not relate to T & S, e.g. purchase of specific technical standards required to technically assess a specific method.
- Will our assessment cost the same, more or less than originally?
Generally, our experience has indicated that the effort required to conduct the assessment is around the same as it would have been if the visit had not been conducted remotely. Unless we identify issues that would result in extra assessment or we need to conduct significant on-site activity (when restriction are eased) then it is likely that overall, an organisation subject to remote assessment would benefit from a net overall reduction in cost in comparison to a normal assessment. This is because customers will make savings as they are not incurring the travel and subsistence costs that normally apply when the team attends site.