A recent ISO 14001 seminar promotion got my attention due to it’s title: “Mind the Gap: is your auditor asking for more than what’s required in ISO 14001:2015? Or less?” Hosted by environmental consulting firm E2M, the seminar is scheduled for September 30th, and even though it’s aimed at ISO 14001 users, it may well be informative for ISO 9001 users as well. You can read more about it here.

The promo reads:

Increasingly we are receiving complaints about the audit community, auditors are asking for processes, documented information and actions to be taken that are not part of the requirements in ISO 14001:2015. In some cases the auditors are falling short of the new requirements; undermining the organization’s efforts for improvement.

Certainly ISO 9001 and AS9100 users can sympathize. Decade after decade, the CB community and it’s various oversight bodies (IAF and ISO/CASCO) have failed to address the creeping auditor incompetence which invariably reveals itself in one of two forms: auditors inventing requirements that don’t exist, or auditors enforcing their own personal interpretations of requirements, many of which may be outlandish. Using their influence on ISO/CASCO, the CBs have not only refused to take action to fix this problem, but have worked to dilute the rules governing audits (ISO 17021-1) so that these practices may continue unhindered.

I spoke with E2M’s Lynn Johannson about the problems. She told me, “It is entirely understandable that those who were not involved in the negotiations of ISO 14001 or ISO 9001 are struggling.

I think every [management system standard] will face some of what systems experts refer to as “unintended consequences”. We have case studies on auditors who more than cross the line, and some who have not left the gate yet.Developers of the standards (i.e. those of us involved in writing the new standards) have had three years of working with the new framework.

Above all, we constantly remind all those interested in the standard, whatever their role in the standard world, that the ‘bottom line’ is to focus on a robust, credible and reliable EMS (or could be a QMS). These three words have special meaning in the world of systems.

I think she may be too kind. Throughout the development of ISO 9001, at least, TC 176 ignored user feedback and stakeholder concerns, and populated its ranks with nearly no actual ISO 9001 users; that is, people with experience working with the standard As a result, TC 176 robbed itself of critical feedback on new requirements and their ability to be practically implemented and audited. Had anyone on TC 176 actually had experience as an ISO 9001 user, they might have — for example — chimed in and noted that “risk-based thinking” is virtually impossible to audit. Instead, TC 176 is overrun by private consultants and CB representatives who simply wanted the standard published so they could start charging for upgrade services.

For now, the certification scheme is in a crisis of trust. The same incestuous triad of players — CBs, consultants and ISO — populate every level of the scheme, from standards development to certification to training and consulting, and so have created a self-rewarding scheme enforced, ultimately, by the IAF. Nowhere in that mix is any serious concern over the performance of auditors, who are merely footsoldiers in the marketing push by ISO to sell its standards.

Until we get government intervention and a full WTO hearing, this is likely to continue. But getting information is critical, so I hope you’ll consider the E2M webinar.

[Oxebridge has no relation, financial or otherwise, with E2.]


About Christopher Paris

Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.


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