I have undertaken many environmental audits over the years of varying types such as environmental management system audits, legal compliance audits and due diligence audits to name but a few! Going back to when I first started auditing, I remember how daunting it was to carry one out. In this post I thought I could pass on a few helpful tips that will be useful for auditing.
Training is Vital
Auditing is a very practical subject, but training does give a grounding in the key techniques and some background in what topics are being audited. Whatever type of environmental audit is being undertaken knowing the key principles is important.
When you are undertaking an audit if you have not prepared properly, it is painfully obvious. Prior to the start of the audit, you should spend much time preparing. Understanding the audit criteria is key. Audit criteria is basically what you are auditing against so depending on the audit type it could be ISO 14001, the law or an internal operational procedure etc. Prepare a checklist around the criteria so that the audit has structure, and nothing is missed. The audit criteria is what you will be checking against so you must know it thoroughly.
It is also important to have a good awareness of the workplace being audited. Look on the internet about the organisation and ask questions before you visit, not just during the audit. When you get to the site make sure that you spend a good amount of time understanding the activities that are occurring in the area being audited. It is also advisable to undertake an orientation tour prior to the start of the audit if time allows. Knowing about the workplace gives the audit context.
Interviewing people during an audit is not an easy thing to do well, it takes practice. Always be approachable and polite. An auditor is looking for facts so interview technique should be based around this. As much as you can ask ‘open questions’ these are questions that do not require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Such questions generally get to the facts. If ‘closed’ questions are asked, those that require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, then this can be very leading. For example consider the following:
Closed question – ‘Do you keep waste transfer notes for two years?’ and the open version – ‘how long do you keep waste transfer notes?’.
The closed version is somewhat leading as it is giving the correct answer in the question. Whereas the second version does not, and the auditee is more likely to give a factually correct answer.
Double check audit evidence
Any evidence that you collect during an environmental audit should be verified or double checked using a different form of evidence collection. Let’s take an example – I have interviewed a person regarding the length of time they keep waste transfer notes, using the open version of the question above. What I now need to do is to review the waste transfer notes and check that there are examples that go back at least two years. Once I have completed this I can be sure that the waste transfer notes are retained by the organisation for the requisite amount of time. Always check using other forms of evidence collection then you can be sure that the information is what is actually happening.
Just a few hopefully helpful tips from my many years of being an auditor. Having the basic skills through training is a must, but you should also consider making sure that you thoroughly prepare, interview properly and double check (verify) audit evidence.
John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MIEMA
John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant.