System certification in the time of Corona
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed our everyday life. Familiar routines had to be abandoned within a few days and replaced by new procedures for continuing daily life in the private and professional environment.
Audit routines for certification of management systems which have proven themselves in many years of practice had to be adapted in order to prevent infection and to protect people.
For us at Quality Austria it is essential to fully support our clients, especially in such challenging times. A few days after the announcement of the restrictions for preventing a COVID-19 infection we managed to prepare an adjusted framework for conducting audits in compliance with accreditation requirements. Within a short period, the accreditation body had recognized the new audit procedure. We were then able to start the operational implementation and conduct of audits to provide our clients with the best possible support.
Now, a few weeks later, the most severe restrictions in economic life are gradually being lifted. Nevertheless, some restrictions will remain. It is therefore important to provide a brief overview of the most important rules that apply to us when conducting an audit in the times of Corona.
Despite all technical solutions, one thing remains most important: personal conversation. Your number one contact during this time is your auditor. In case of any uncertainties regarding questions of auditing management systems, please contact your auditor or the responsible qualityaustria representative. Our auditors are informed about all applicable regulations and can agree with you on the procedure for the next audit. The rules briefly outlined below not only specify what is generally possible but also which conditions have to be met. In each case, the auditor shall review these specifically with regard to your company.
The specific audit framework is limited in time. As soon as the framework conditions are lifted by the Accreditation Body and audits can / must be carried out on site again we inform you accordingly.
We have also created a checklist for our clients to help preparing and conducting audits under COVID-19 restrictions in the best possible way. Your can download the checklist here:
Rules for conducting audits during the COVID-19 crisis
Quality, Environment and Occupational Health and Safety Management systems
For audits in the fields of ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 45001, etc., which are subject to Akkreditierung Austria, the corresponding rules of IAF (International Accreditation Forum) or Akkreditierung Austria apply. The regulations allow remote audits to be carried out in certain cases. It is essential that audit objectives can always be achieved. Using remote audit methods is best possible in surveillance audits. If audits cannot be carried out on site or virtually due to the COVID-19 restrictions, audits may be postponed up to six months. These rules also apply to the Education Sector (ISO 29990), Business Continuity Management Systems (ISO 22301), Medical Devices QMS (ISO 13485), etc.
Audits in the Automotive Industry
For audits acc. to IATF 16949, IATF has issued a document (IATF GLOBAL WAIVERS AND MEASURES IN RESPONSE TO THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC (COVID-19)). The current version is available on the IATF website. This document sets out the maximum extension (usually three months) for different audit situations. In special cases, “IATF 16949-Monitoring” is required, which is intended to “remotely” evaluate the status and effectiveness of the quality management system in order to proactively identify risks in the client’s management system.
For VDA 6.x audits, there is a similar specification regarding the extension of deadlines in the respective audit situation.
Audits in Healthcare
In the Healthcare Sector, Stage 1 audits and surveillance audits can be carried out remotely. Certification and recertification audits require on site inspection. In addition, the planned date for recertification audits can be postponed by up to 6 months. In times of risk of infection, patient contact shall be avoided and the on site audit shall be well planned, especially with regard to ward inspections. The focus is on risk management including clinical risk management, hygiene, resources and crisis management.
The deadlines for all EMAS verifications due by June 30, 2020 may now be extended by up to five months. This requires an informal application by the registered organization including a short justification to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also send your application e-mail to your EMAS verifier and the qualityaustria Customer Service Center (email@example.com) and enter the e-mail subject “EMAS – Application for postponing the deadline“. This allows us to filter application e-mails for postponement of the EMAS verification from numerous other e-mails and store it in the electronic Customer Administration. In cases where no request for extension of the deadline is submitted, please note that EMAS-registered organizations must always get the opportunity to comment before a registration is suspended or deleted. Any decision on suspension or deletion shall consider, inter alia, the foreseeability of non-compliance with EMAS requirements and the circumstances leading to it.
It is of course possible for experts and organizations to agree that a document review is carried out in advance. In the current exceptional situation, in which social contacts shall be kept to a minimum, the BMK has established a broadened concept of document review: the “extended document review” not only covers the study of documents in the environmental verifier’s home office, but also web-based conferences together with the organization. Examples using remote audit techniques include the review of internal environmental reports, management reviews or drafts of the environmental statement. When using remote techniques, it is essential that the relevant and responsible persons of the EMAS organization participate; activities must be documented accordingly in the audit report. Audit times in an extended document review, where direct communication with the organization is ensured by remote techniques, may be included in the calculation of the on site audit time.
Environment / CoC Standards (FSC® CoC und PEFCTM CoC)
Initial certification shall be performed on site, unless the organization does not physically own goods or has not purchased or sold certified goods since the last audit. In this case, a remote audit is permitted. Otherwise, the audit shall be postponed for three months and then the situation shall be reassessed.
Recertification audits shall be performed on site, unless the organization does not physically own goods or has not purchased or sold certified goods since the last audit. In this case, a remote audit is permitted. Otherwise, the audit shall be postponed for three months and then the situation shall be reassessed. The validity of certificate can be extended by three months. After three months, the situation shall be re-evaluated based on new findings.
Surveillance audit: In surveillance audits, alternative audit methods such as Desk Review by sending the documents, may be used and supported by conference calls, virtual meetings or Skype. However, certain conditions are relevant here: No nonconformities from previous audits; or, it is possible to review any corrective actions using remote audit methods such as Desk Review etc. The auditor clarifies these issues with the organization. If it is not possible to carry out a remote audit, the audit can be postponed for three months
Audits in the field of GFSI (IFS, BRC, FSSC) always require a risk assessment to find out why an on site audit cannot be conducted as planned. These interviews are not part of the audit; the complete audit shall be carried out at a later point in time. In case of FSSC 22000 and BRC certification, validity of certificates can be extended by six months; however, this is not possible for IFS certificates.
ISO 22000 audits can be started as remote audits and completed with an on site audit within six months. Certificates are renewed in time before their validity expires.
IAF has also extended the transition period from version ISO 22000:2005 to version ISO 22000:2018 by six months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The previous deadline set on June 29, 2021 is now extended to December 29, 2021.
FSSC 22000, which is based on ISO 22000, is not affected.
There are also special rules in the aerospace industry. Remote audit methods are possible, but only to a limited extent. In many cases, where a regular audit cannot be carried out as planned, audits will be postponed. Please find temporary COVID-19 regulations and further information on the OASIS website.
Any questions? Please contact us!
Our qualityaustria auditors are your top contacts in this field and will be pleased to answer your questions! Our Customer Service Center is also at your disposal and can be contacted via e-mail, Fax or phone (+43 732 34 23 22).
We are looking forward to cooperating with you – whether virtually or on site – and help to keep the focus on your long-term goals in such challenging times!
Here you can download the checklist for our clients!