Your first ISO assessment and what to expect

Your first ISO assessment and what to expect

You’ve worked hard on creating all the necessary policies and procedures, systemised your way of working, informed the workforce and carried out internal audits to verify compliance.  Well done!  The next, and final stage towards achieving ISO certification is the so-called ‘dreaded’ assessment.  However, with the right approach and preparation, you may even enjoy your assessment!  Hard to believe? Read on…….

So what should you expect to happen?

The assessment, regardless of which ISO Standard you are implementing is split into two stages.  The Stage 1 Assessment is quite simply a Document Review.  This is where the assessor will expect to see all the key documented information that the standard requires.  So where the standard states that you ‘shall provide documented procedure/policy for XXXX’, this is what you need to have available i.e. a documented Environmental Policy if your assessment is for ISO 14001.  Make sure you have all of this documentation easily accessible on the day of the assessment.  Otherwise, you will be wasting your time and the assessor’s time if the information isn’t readily available either online (electronic information available on your server/intranet/Sharepoint), or if it’s easier for you, a hard copy (paper version of a Policy document).  It doesn’t matter if it is a hard or soft copy, so long as it is available and meets the requirements of the ISO Standard, and most importantly, your own business requirements.  If you have a small business the Stage 1 Assessment for one ISO Standard is likely to be just the one day. If you have a micro business, some certification bodies offer a remote Stage 1 Assessment, whereby you submit the documentation electronically.

Typically, by mid-afternoon the assessor is likely to be writing up the findings of the assessment, so by the end of the visit you will be provided with a Stage 1 report, which will outline the scope of certification, and the key findings for all the clauses within the standard/s.  The report will highlight any positive aspects of the documentation and will also raise any minor or major non-conformities which you will need to address prior to the Stage 2 Assessment.  Do not be worried to ask questions if some of the terminology may seem rather technical (ISO gobbledegook), your assessor will be happy to explain their findings so that you are clear on the next steps.  You may feel like your question is a bit silly, but don’t worry about this, they are there to ensure that you fully understand the findings and will be happy to explain the findings and recommendations in a slightly different way so it makes sense for your business.

Most Certification Bodies also provide ‘opportunities for improvement’ which can be very helpful in terms of identifying further improvements that can be made within the business.

The Stage 2 Assessment can be carried out anytime up to 3 months after the Stage 1. We would normally recommend booking this approximately 4 – 6 weeks after the Stage 1 Assessment to ensure that you keep the momentum going on continual improvement, yet still have time to address any improvements to your management system that need to be made.

The Stage 2 Assessment is carried out to simply demonstrate compliance that you operate in the way that you say you do in your Management System! In effect it is a ‘show and tell’.

So, for example if you have a procedure for training, you need to prove that it’s working.  How? Show evidence of your records i.e.  your company Training and Skills Matrix or individual training records.   If you have a procedure for internal audits, simply show your Audit Schedule for the year, and the internal audit reports.  It is basically proving how you are running a successful business.  This is your opportunity to shine, enjoy and be proud of your company’s operations – from Leadership to operatives.

If you’ve got a brilliant way of working for sales or operations, great! show it off!  The assessor will be shadowing you and individual process owners to listen, observe and make notes on how you operate your business.  At the end of the visit, they will provide you with a report on their findings and all being well, you will be recommended for certification.  Worst case scenario if there are any major non-conformances at the end of Stage 2, you will be given time to provide a corrective action plan.

At Blackmores I’m proud to say we have a 100% success rate at helping our clients achieving certification, so if the thought of an assessment is still daunting, we can be there to give you a helping hand and act as your ISO ambassador to support the management team if needed.