ISO 14001 environmental management systems is an accreditation many businesses are turning to. But to maintain compliance and continue to push forward, audits are key. How (and how often) do these audits happen?
Audits are a key component of ISO 14001, and there are two categories: internal and external audits.
How are ISO 14001 audits conducted?
There are three ways that these audits can be conducted:
- On-site – these audits take full days with the number needed depending on several factors such as the size of your business, the complexities, risks, and the nature of your organisation.
- Remote audits – the recent pandemic has seen us undertake more remote or virtual audits and we know that these are successful and efficient. Quality of input and feedback is maintained.
- Self-audits – reviewing what you are doing and how you are doing provides assurance you are meeting the requirements of this important accreditation.
Internal & external audits
Internal audits are performed by you as a self-examination of your business’s environmental management systems. By taking this step, you are effectively preparing your organisation for the next stage, which is the external audit.
But it is more than a simple case of casting your eye over your business and process. Your internal auditor must be independent of the area being audited – this audit is a requirement of ISO 14001 and must be done methodically and to an audit checklist.
Effectively, the responsible person needs to assess conformity, evaluate effectiveness and identify opportunities for improvement. They will also compare the current systems to the detail of the ISO and identify any non-conformances.
External audits can be customer, supplier, certification or surveillance audits. They are used to determine if what you currently offer meets their requirements.
A certification audit is one that is done by your selected expert who will verify that your processes and practice conform to the ISO 14001 standard. Once they are satisfied, your certificate will be issued.
What happens after certification?
Checks are made periodically through surveillance audits, which is typically defined as being an annual audit process. They are very similar to a certification audit but without the issuing of a certificate at the end. In other words, it is to check compliance and conformance.
Changes to ISO 14001 audits
This is an audit-heavy process and one that the organisation behind ISOs make no apologies for. The days of merely recycling being enough of an environmental credential have passed, something that is now apparent from the changes in the auditing process within the standard.
Focus in now on leadership, as well as risk-based thinking and the context of the organisation. A gap analysis will also identify any key areas of non-conformances and so when you get to the stage of the certification audit, you have the confidence everything is as it should be.
ISO 14001 audits are nothing to be feared and by embracing them with our expert team, your business will become the forward-thinking business you want it to be.