In recent years, various disruptive influences have enforced or expedited changes in the way businesses and organisations operate, and the field of Management Systems Certification Auditing has not been an exception. Many of these changes had been scoped or even commenced prior to the pandemic, however in most cases these developments were accelerated by the effects of COVID-19, and this has included the consideration and use of remote auditing techniques.
It is recognised that the accelerated introduction of remote auditing has introduced different risks to the integrity of some parts of the audit process, but the technique has enabled improved focus in other parts. UKAS has embraced the use of remote audits, and this will continue in the future, so long as CBs are able to demonstrate that effective remote audits are completed.
Prior to 2020 UKAS had issued Technical Policy Statement TPS 62 Management of Extraordinary Events or Circumstances Affecting UKAS accredited Certification Bodies and their Certified Organisations. This document implemented the principles of IAF ID3 IAF Informative Document for Management of Extraordinary Events or Circumstances Affecting ABs, CABs and Certified Organizations. Due to the wide impact of the pandemic, TPS 73 UKAS Policy on Accreditation and Conformity Assessment During the COVID-19 Pandemic was subsequently issued. Both these Technical Policy Statements are subject to review, but as there are still circumstances that require special measures, they remain in place and in line with accepted practice. Key to the process for assuring consistency during the recent challenging time, UKAS utilised the IAF COVID FAQs to maintain effective processes, which continue to be extant but are subject to review by the IAF. Recently there have been several initiatives instigated by standards committees and sector stakeholder groups to establish criteria for completing remote audits, including an IAF Task Force Group, designed to optimise existing documentation.
Although there continues to be cases of COVID-19, we have entered a post-COVID environment, returning to more traditional face-to-face audits supplemented by alternative methods including remote techniques. Following concerns raised by stakeholder groups regarding a “race to the bottom” through the inappropriate use of remote auditing, TPS 74 UKAS guidance on the use of a blended approach to auditing of management systems by Certification Bodies (Edition 2, December 2021), was developed with stakeholder support.
During the COVID restrictions some requirements were relaxed through the IAF COVID -19 FAQs. This means that should these FAQs be removed or modified, then UKAS may need to review its approach, as we need to ensure CBs are implementing normative requirements, where no recognised mitigations are in place. Although some certified organisations prefer remote audits, it is essential that CBs select the audit approach for the correct technical reasons and that justification is available. We are approaching the time where some organisations may not have been subject to on-site audit for a full certification cycle. In such cases it is essential that affected CBs take appropriate actions to maintain confidence in accredited management systems certification and these will be a focus at ongoing UKAS assessments. UKAS will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that its assessment approaches consider all types of CB audit technics in an open manner but will also ensure CBs are selecting the appropriate methods on a case-by-case basis.
It should not be forgotten that whatever audit technique is selected, the fundamental requirement is that it is capable of ensuring the effective implementation of the Management System is confirmed by the CB, and that any sector specific requirements are also met.