by Andy Hofmann
Every couple of months, the editor of this fine journal reminds me of the upcoming due date to meet publication deadlines. As I am writing this, the calendar says May and there is a June 1 deadline for submission. Of course, I am provided with boundaries on what I can write about. They are not too surprising as I am an auditor and have been asked to write about what happens on the audit trail. Usually, we discuss interpretive issues from one standard or another. But, as a tough winter finally turns to spring, it’s hard to think about anything but the glorious outdoors and all the splendor it has to offer. So perhaps that is something I can write about.
Now before you think that this is going to be a story about sitting beside snapping campfires, eating something off the grill, or some other pine-scented tale, not so much. Instead, I thought it might be seasonal to discuss auditing outdoors and how that’s different from the indoor variety. In a word “preparation.”
By far the majority of the audits that I have participated in over the years occurred within the relative comfort and safety of indoor environments. The planning for such audits doesn’t require great consideration about what to wear, with the notable exception of the required PPE. The auditor simply shows up to the audit in the attire appropriate for a place of business. When it is a place that manufactures metal stampings, long-sleeve shirt, rugged trousers, safety boots, safety glasses, and hearing protection would be the order of the day.
But what if the audit is outside? For example, an auditor might perform health, safety, and environmental audits of an organization that’s in the mining exploration business. The preparation for this kind of audit takes on a new level of complexity, as I found out on a recent audit in the jungles of Indonesia. There was the obvious logistical challenge of getting there in the first place. People have often remarked how fortunate we are as auditors to have the opportunity to travel. Indeed, we get our passports stamped in some really interesting places. But this is not the kind of travel one sees on television.
Consider this: while most people are fuming about the 45 to 90-minute commute home, a busy auditor has put in a ten-hour audit day and is now running off the airport to catch a flight out of town. If he or she is lucky, the plane will be on time and the midnight arrival time in the next city will provide the opportunity for a quick five hours of sleep before the next audit starts. If the plane is not on time, well, things can get challenging.
To get to Indonesia requires a 20-hour flight from most cities in North America. Because Murphy’s Law loves auditors, there are often no direct flights to where we needed to go to. This required Internet research to find out how to get from our place of business and to the nearest Indonesian city to the audit site.
Because there was a dateline to cross, we had to back up the travel, meaning that the weekend became travel time. Most auditors know too well the reality of leaving on Sunday evening to be in position for Monday morning. If you are going to cross a date line, then that travel takes place on Saturday evening.
Having figured out how to get to the closest city and arranged the flight, we started to consider the kind of environment we’d be working in. The client advised that to work in the jungle, we needed updated shots against Hepatitis A and B and Yellow Fever, and had to be prepared for malaria. This required more preparation.
Off I went to a clinic that specializes in shots, a minimum of three months before the trip. Some of these shots require several follow-up visits. Of course, there are expedited ways of taking them, but they come with risks. A few years ago, I took the Hepatitis A and B vaccinations at the same time, one in each arm. As I got off the examining table, I passed out, requiring three stitches to my chin to close the gash.
Malaria preparation requires one to start taking pills every day four days before the scheduled arrival at the destination and for a total of 15 days. The doctor providing this medicine told me not to worry about the daytime mosquitoes, as they seldom carry malaria. It’s the nighttime mosquitoes you need to be worried about. When I asked him how one can tell the difference between the day and night mosquito shift, he was not amused. Changing the subject, he recommended wearing long sleeves when sleeping to offer added protection against the threat.
Now that we are medically ready to go to Indonesia, we ask the client about the logistics on the ground. Seems that to do this audit, we needed to be transported to the mine site by helicopter and stay there for the duration of the audit. This meant living in the mine camp with the other personnel stationed there. No cell phone, no Internet, no television except in the common area of the camp.
The client said we didn’t need to bring any specialized clothing. Everything would be provided at the mine site, as everyone has to wear the same high-visibility clothing. The client did require us to bring our own safety boots, but other than that, no special requirements.
Of course, we needed to put together the audit plan that is obligatory for all external audits. With this client, we put together a strategy of the locations in the mine to visit, decided how much time we needed at each location, and accounted for the travel time between them. Some travel would be by road, other by helicopter, if it is available. The audit plan must be flexible based on the availability of air transport and the weather conditions.
Upon arrival in Jakarta, we had to take ground transportation to another airport, a further two-hour flight to the north, and a one-hour flight by helicopter to the camp. Our accommodations at the camp revealed that in this part of the world, recycling is very well developed. The camp was made up entirely of recycled 40-foot ocean freight containers. They were painted, and the insides configured to create a bedroom/sitting room and bathroom in each container. This was “home” for the next several nights.
Dining was in the camp kitchen and there wasn’t much of a choice as to the time of our meals. Breakfast started at 5 a.m. and was served until 6:30 a.m. Lunch was between noon and 1 p.m. and dinner was from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. If we missed those times, we were out of luck. This is why most people had snacks hidden away in their “rooms.”
The first audit site was a two-hour ride by vehicle over the camp roads. Upon arrival at the site, exploratory drilling was taking place up a hill. Remember now, we were in the jungle. Daytime temperatures started in the high 20s Celsius and climbed from there. The humidity was over 90 percent and everyone wore thick cotton attire, hard hats, and heavy safety rubber boots. The path to the drilling site was beside a creek and it had been raining all night. Winding along the slippery banks of the creek for some 600 meters that included a 100-meter elevation change was a great work out. By the time we arrived at the audit site, everyone was incredibly sweaty.
Having recovered composure at the drilling site, we needed to go through the audit question program and make notes in the plastic notebooks we brought along. In this case, old school is best so a supply of pencils is best. They work no matter how damp things have become. This is no place for a computer or a pen.
Of course, the crew didn’t speak English. Weeks before the audit, we arranged translation services. This meant that the amount of time on site had to be expanded by a minimum of 20 percent to accommodate the time to translate both ways. This extra time was included in the audit plan. Arranging for the translator took several weeks to finalize so it couldn’t be relegated to a last-minute activity.
We repeated this adventure at five more locations in the three days we were on the ground. Before the audit and sitting half a world away, I thought it would be boring. Far from it. By the time the work day was over, there was very little need for anything but for a soft bunk and some sleep.
When the audit was complete and it was time to leave, all the travel time that was experienced on the way in was repeated on the way out. About 20 hours after leaving Jakarta, I touched down back in my city of departure. I am happy to report that no nighttime mosquitoes were able to penetrate the Kevlar pajamas we took along.
Consider that for a three-day on-site audit, there were 40 hours of travel, four hours of medical preparation, and another four hours for logistical planning. For 30 hours of auditing, there 48 hours of required preparation and travel. Auditor travel certainly isn’t the travel from “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
I think everyone can agree that the amount of preparation for this kind of outdoor audit is significantly more than is usual. Even so, auditors must have the organizational skills to prepare for their audits—wherever they are. For outdoor audits involving significant travel, these skills will need to be amplified from weeks to months in advance.
Stamina is also important for an auditor. Being a successful auditor means long days. There is travel by air, car, bus, train, and sometimes by boat. Inside audits require a lot of walking, climbing, and, therefore, energy. Outside audits complicate this by terrain and weather.
If one has been attracted to the auditing profession by the opportunity to travel, perhaps the foregoing details will be useful in understanding what that really means. If the auditor is sufficiently organized and prepared, then it is actually quite pleasant to stand on a hill in a jungle that few others get to see—except the mosquitoes.
About the author
Andy Hofmann has been involved with management systems for more than 30 years. He has audited more than 2,500 systems, giving him a unique opportunity view of organizations that are performing well and those that struggle. A regular contributor to American Society for Quality management systems conferences and publications, Hofmann’s intellectual property has received wide acceptance. Currently the president of ICS Certification Services, Hofmann continues to work with management systems professionals throughout North America. He has an MBA from the University of Toronto and is a Certified Engineering Technologist.