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Adept auditors - Reliable environmental management system certifications

by Randy N. Dougherty on
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quality audit

Environmental management systems (EMS) have many benefits. They can reduce waste, and hence unnecessary costs. They help reduce consumption of energy and materials, promoting sustainability for the generations of today and of the future. And they improve corporate image among regulators, customers and the public. It is not surprising, therefore, that more and more companies are seeking to implement an EMS.

In fact, at the end of 2010, at least 250  972 certificates to ISO 14001:2004, Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use, had been issued in 155 countries and economies – 12 % more than the previous year ! And that is because accredited certification of a management system is one means of providing assurance that it has been implemented effectively.

Yet, as the number of organizations around the world looking to certify their EMS continues to increase, it becomes more important than ever to ensure the competence of the personnel involved in auditing and certification.

To respond to this need, the ISO Committee on conformity assessment (ISO/CASCO) recently finalized ISO/IEC TS 17021-2:2012, Conformity assessment – Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems – Part 2 : Competence requirements for auditing and certification of environmental management systems. This technical specification outlines competence requirements for auditors and other personnel of bodies which audit and certify ISO 14001. The document was developed through the joint effort of ISO technical committee ISO/TC 207, Environmental management, and ISO/CASCO.

More to come

Several years ago, one perceived major threat to the credibility of management systems certification was the lack of agreed competence requirements for management systems auditors. This led to the revision of ISO/IEC 17021:2006, Conformity assessment – Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems. The more recent version, ISO/IEC 17021:2011, establishes largely generic competence requirements for personnel involved with the audit or the recommendation for certification of any management system.

ISO/IEC TS 17021-2 is the next stage in the overall strategy to resolve the issue of competence. It was designed to complement ISO/IEC 17021:2011, by focusing on the environmental competence needed to audit and certify an EMS. ISO/IEC TS 17021-2 is the first of a planned series of technical specifications to support ISO/IEC 17021:2011 by establishing – by consensus with the input of experts in the field – additional competencies for specific types of management systems.

Another example is ISO/IEC TS 17021-3, Conformity assessment – Requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems – Part 3 : Competence requirements for auditing and certification of quality management systems. Currently under development, this technical specification will outline competence requirements for quality management systems auditing and certification.

Knowledge and skills

So what do we mean by competence ? ISO/IEC 17021:2011 defines it as the “ ability to apply knowledge and skills to achieve intended results ”. This constitutes a big shift in thinking, highlighting knowledge and skills rather than qualifications such as work experience, education and training.

Many people find this a difficult concept to grasp. But that is because they do not realize that “ knowledge and skills ” also include that gained from work experience and education. However, this new outlook emphasizes the ability to achieve results.

Once knowledge and skills became the focus, it was easier to develop a technical specification for EMS. ISO/IEC TS 17021-2 additional requirements include knowledge competencies to complement the generic skills needed for auditing any management system.

Auditor competencies

An EMS audit team must have the following 10 knowledge competencies :

  • Environmental terminology
  • Environmental metrics
  • Environmental monitoring and measuring techniques
  • Techniques for identifying and evaluating environmental aspects and impacts and their environmental significance
  • Environmental aspects of design
  • Environmental performance evaluation
  • Legal and other requirements
  • Emergency preparedness and response
  • Operational control
  • Site-related factors

Audit teams also need to have a sound understanding of aspects, monitoring and measurement, and operational control in the following environment-related areas :

  • Emissions to air
  • Releases to land
  • Releases to water
  • Releases of raw materials, energy and natural resources
  • Energy emitted
  • Waste
  • Physical attributes

Not just auditors

While the emphasis of ISO/IEC TS 17021-2 is on the competence of the audit team, requirements are also stated for other personnel in the certification body. For example, they must be proficient in selecting a competent audit team, in reviewing the audit results, and in making a certification decision. So, as with ISO/IEC 17021, this technical specification also includes competence requirements for personnel performing these additional functions.

For example, personnel who conduct application reviews to determine audit team competence requirements, and select audit team members, need to know about :

  • Environmental terminology
  • Environmental aspects and associated impacts
  • Site-related factors such as the proximity of a client’s site to sensitive environments

Similarly, certification body personnel who review audit reports to make certification decisions need to know about :

  • Environmental terminology
  • Environmental aspects and impacts, and processes for determining significance
  • Environmental performance evaluation
  • Applicable legal and other requirements

Overall, ISO/IEC TS 17021-2 will reassure organizations, regulators, customers and the public that a certified EMS truly achieves its objectives. 

Randy N. Dougherty
Randy N. Dougherty
Randy N. Dougherty
Director, Accreditation
ANSI ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB)
USA

Conformity assessment
Audit report - Third-party

Content of audit reports

by Roger Frost

A new ISO technical specification, ISO/IEC TS 17022, Requirements and recommendations for content of a third-party audit report on management systems, will help build confidence between partners in business-to-business dealings, and provide support for trade regulations.

The document relates to specific aspects of “ conformity assessment ” – the name given to the processes used to demonstrate that a product, service, management system or organization meets specified requirements, such as those of a standard.

ISO/IEC TS 17022:2012, contains requirements and recommendations for the content of an audit report of a third-party management system certification, such as ISO 9001 or ISO 14001.

It has been developed to ensure that audit reports include the basic information required of them and to improve their consistency. This will help to increase the credibility of audit teams and the certification process.

Although the audit client and the certification body are the primary users of audit reports, the content of such reports may be required to satisfy the needs of other interested parties, such as accreditation bodies or regulatory authorities.