June was a busy month for those who develop guidance for ISO 9001/2/3 and ISO 14001 auditing. That very busyness, however, raises questions -- and alarms -- among some auditing experts, particularly those involved with ISO 14000.
In early June, the ISO Technical Management Board, which provides oversight to the ISO technical committees, issued three resolutions, one of which "asks ISO/TC 176 [the group responsible for the ISO 9000 series] and ISO/TC 207 [for ISO 14000] to expedite the development of a joint auditing standard, which is considered to be an urgent market requirement." At the same time, TC 176 began voting on a proposal to develop integrated auditing guidelines, and TC 207 met in San Francisco to debate it. Both TCs completed voting in late July.
Inconsistencies exist between the approaches to auditing for ISO 9000 and ISO 14000, which raises two questions:
Should quality management system and environmental management system auditing be the same?
How important are the auditing standards to QMS and EMS implementation and/or registration?
At present, six auditing guidelines standards exist for the two series. ISO 9000's three guidelines standards cover auditing, qualification criteria for quality system auditors and managing audit programs. ISO 14000's trio focuses on general principles of environmental auditing, auditing of EMSs and qualification criteria for environmental auditors. While the guidelines for ISO 9001/2/3 and ISO 14001 auditing are fairly equivalent, their content and application differ somewhat. The goal is to develop one guideline standard to narrow those differences and make a single approach to QMS and EMS auditing possible.
Much debate centers on whether the role of auditing with QMSs and EMSs should ever be exactly the same. The differences result from limited experience with auditing of ISO 14001-based EMSs and the need to update the ISO 9000 auditing standards. They are being revised as a single auditing guideline, ISO 10011, which is proposed as a base, along with ISO 14000 auditing standards, for a joint environmental auditing/quality auditing standard.
Differences also stem from how five terms are/are not defined and used in auditing QMSs to ISO 9001/2/3 and EMSs to ISO 14001. The five terms are adequacy, auditability, effectiveness, suitability and implementation.
An EA/QA joint working group must consider differences in terminology and how the two TCs draft standards. For example, management system effectiveness with ISO 9001 is determined by internal or registrar auditors who compare the company's QMS with the standard. With ISO 14001, executive management determines whether the system is effective; audit reports only verify determinations. This difference is not just a result of what the auditing guidelines say, but how the specification standards are written and audited against.
Benefits of a joint standard would include reducing the number of auditing standards and the risk of variation that multiple standards represent, thereby ensuring greater consistency in how audits are conducted. The joint guideline is expected to consist of a main section on management system auditing along with two shorter appendixes covering aspects unique to QMS and EMS auditing.
By having auditors work from the same standard, companies with integrated systems based on ISO 9001/2/3 and ISO 14001 can count on greater consistency among audit team results and greater integration of the management systems. It also will permit greater coordination and integration of registrar audits, reducing costs and work flow interruptions.
Some EMS experts fear that a joint standard will have a ripple effect upon ISO 14001, forcing not only changes in how an EMS audit is conducted but also how ISO 14001 itself may change to permit an EMS audit to be similar to a QMS audit. QMS experts drafting ISO 9001:2000 have indicated they are working to bring ISO 9001 closer to ISO 14001 to ensure greater compatibility without losing QMS effectiveness. However, some EMS concerns remain and will have to be addressed in any joint working group.
Auditors needn't follow the auditing standards when conducting audits. They are guidance standards, after all, not specifications. Yet, the standards were developed by international consensus, and because they are recognized as the premier guidance for auditing, they have the greatest influence on how audits are conducted. Thus, changes must be made carefully because of their potential impact.
In the meantime, if your company's auditors don't use the existing standards, they should start now so that the joint standard will provide the most far-reaching results when it's published.
About the author
Jim Mroz is senior editor of The Informed Outlook, a twice-monthly newsletter for information on ISO 9000, QS-9000 and ISO 14000, published by INFORM, 15913 Edgewood Drive, Montclair, VA 22026, telephone (703) 680-1436, fax (703) 680-1356, e-mail email@example.com.