by Denise Robitaille
Having a designated audit escort during a second- or third-party audit is more than just a courtesy. It’s an essential element of the audit. During the opening meeting, one of the items that’s generally covered is the question of who will be escorting the auditor throughout the day. Although the answer is generally straightforward, it shouldn’t be discounted as unimportant.
The audit escort is a member of the auditee’s organization who accompanies the auditor during the audit. The individual who is tapped for the role of audit escort is usually the quality manager or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) management representative. However, sometimes the plant manager or another member of senior management is asked to serve as an audit escort.
When an audit team consists of several members, an audit escort needs to be assigned to each auditor on the team. This can be a challenge for smaller organizations because it ties up a lot of resources. It also presents the predictable scenario that someone will be unavailable for an interview because he or she is escorting another auditor in another part of the facility. Auditors should be sensitive to this fact and attempt to coordinate activities so that not all key personnel are tied up at the same time.
Audit escort: Role and benefits
What is the role of the audit escort and why is it such a big deal? There are several factors of a successful audit that are facilitated by escorts who understand their functions.
Perhaps the single biggest benefit that the escort brings to the audit relates to safety. The escort can help to ensure that auditors don’t venture into areas that aren’t safe and that they have the proper protection before entering hazardous environments. The escort may also help to ensure that auditors are properly garbed when entering areas such as clean rooms, where it’s the product—not the people—whose protection must be safeguarded.
The second factor to consider is liability. Despite the fact that auditors sign nondisclosure agreements and are required as a rule of good audit practice to hold all information in the strictest confidence, organizations may still have sensitive information that shouldn’t be shared beyond a limited scope of individuals. This can relate to confidential personnel records, matters of security, customer patents, or copyrighted materials. The organization may have signed agreements that prohibit it from sharing the information even with auditors. The escorts’ presence in this case serves two purposes: it helps to ensure against inadvertent disclosure of proprietary information and it protects the auditor by providing a witness in the event that confidential information is leaked and questions arise as to the possibility that the auditor was the source. For this reason, an auditor should never be left unattended at any time during the audit. Auditors should only be alone if they are in the designated room used for their meetings and for generating the audit report and findings.
Having an audit escort also provides an element of time management. The audit escort can suggest minor changes to the audit schedule that will help things to run smoothly. He or she can mention that the individuals in the department that’s next on the schedule will be going on lunch break soon or that some of the records the auditor had planned on assessing are in a room that’s on the way to the next interview. Escorts can call ahead to inform the process owners that the auditor will be arriving in 20 minutes or that the audit is running a little behind schedule.
If the audit involves an organization that does field work or visits customer locations, consideration must be given not only to safety and proprietary concerns, but also to the logistics of transporting the auditors to and from the site.
Escorts can substantiate audit findings by witnessing what the auditor has observed. The auditor makes notes and then informs the audit escort, at the same time ensuring that there’s concurrence over what has been witnessed. This helps to prevent confrontation during the closing meeting. The audit escort is not asked to assign blame or to accuse a co-worker, but to simply verify the objective evidence that was assessed.
Finally, the escort’s demeanor reflects organizational culture and the attitude toward its quality management system and the external audit process. An auditor can tell a lot about an organization from an escort’s conduct. An auditor is a guest in your facility and a little courtesy goes a long way.
About the author
Denise Robitaille is the author of nine books on various quality topics. She’s an internationally recognized speaker who brings years of experience in business and industry to her work in the quality profession. As the principal of Robitaille Associates, she has helped numerous companies in diverse fields to achieve ISO 9001 registration and to improve their quality management systems. Robitaille is vice chair of the U.S. TAG to ISO/TC 176, the committee responsible for updating the ISO 9000 family of standards. She’s also a RABQSA-certified lead assessor, an ASQ Certified Quality Auditor, and a fellow of ASQ.
Her books include Root Cause Analysis, Document Control, The Management Review Handbook, The Preventive Action Handbook, and Managing Supplier-Related Processes, all published by Paton Professional. She also co-authored The Insiders’ Guide to ISO 9001:2008.
Her newest book, 9 Keys to Successful Audits, is available now.
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