During an audit, actions often speak louder than words. Audits are largely based on the ability to provide the auditor with evidence that operations are compliant with a standard. From an auditor’s perspective, it is the applicant that controls the outcome of the audit. In general, a lack of organization, untrained staff, and misinterpretation of compliance criteria will put your auditor on alert. Follow these five steps to prepare for your audit, and the auditor will be more comfortable with your implementation of the standard.
1. Sweat the small stuff. Not addressing the obvious issues shows a lack of training and overall commitment to the standard. Make sure that conditions throughout the facility, especially storage and office areas, are tidy and things are labeled and in their designated place. There should be sufficient space between the wall and stored material for pest control and cleaning activities to take place. Your internal audit should be conducted at least two months prior. You might consider having a third party walk through your facility with your audit team to increase the rigor of the audit.
2. Work as a team. At least three weeks before the audit, have a staff meeting to prepare. Employees should be familiar with their written job descriptions and the monitoring records they are responsible for. They must understand the hazards related to the CCP identified in the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, or HACCP, plan. Key staff should be familiar with terms such as “corrective action,” and the difference between verification and validation. Management needs to conduct trace exercises at least one week before the audit to make sure team members are comfortable with their roles and the exercise as a whole. Staff should also be able to explain the difference between recall and traceability.
3. Do not take a last minute approach to implementing the standard. Don’t fill out documentation in front of the auditor, or correct deviancies while the audit is being conducted. Don’t use terms like “we try” or “sometimes.” Scheduling your pest management service to come in the day before the audit will not impress an auditor.
Senior management should speak with the auditor about the standard/audit and explain some of the steps that have been taken to comply with the standard.
4. Make sure senior management attends opening and/or closing meeting(s). I have been on several audits where management is not available to attend either the opening or closing meeting. It is in the best interest of the company for someone in a senior role to be briefed prior to the meeting, and meet with the auditor. Adopting an accredited standard is a serious commitment. Senior management should speak with the auditor about the standard/audit and explain some of the steps that have been taken to comply with the standard.
5. Your best offense is not being defensive. Do not be offended by the auditor if you have nonconformances during the closing meeting. He/she is just doing his/her job. It’s disrespectful to challenge an auditor if it’s obvious that you don’t comply. An audit is a learning experience for you and the auditor. It’s the auditor’s job to collect data. If you disagree with the findings, take it up through the appeals process. You can challenge the auditor after the report is issued. Stay positive and the audit will go more smoothly.
Zimmerman is founder/CEO of Safe Quality Seafood Associates, LLC. His primary focus is GFSI benchmarked certification standards and regulatory requirements for wild and aquacultured seafood. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.