All companies certified under IFS Standards are required to conduct effective internal audits. To some, the internal audit may seem time-consuming and redundant. When done correctly, however, they are a powerful tool to measure the effectiveness of the quality and safety systems as well as a mechanism for engaging workers. The internal audit covers all aspects of the product and process management program and evaluates both written procedures and employee activities to ensure compliance. Additionally, as objective evidence helps support the audit results, evaluated processes and personnel interviews are documented.
The internal audit identifies conformances and detects shortcomings in the system. In this way, employees receive positive feedback about what is going well and are encouraged to make improvements to identified deficiencies. Non-conformances require root cause analysis and corrective action plans and, when required, validation of practices.
Internal systems evaluations help identify gaps in the safety and quality program. Even in instances where there are no deviations or non-conformances identified, internal audits highlight opportunities to further improve efficiencies.
Internal audits must be performed effectively by independent, competent, trained employees, preferably knowledgeable in the company's operations. They have received training and are familiar with the standard requirements. Training includes how to conduct an effective audit so that they know what to look for, how to conduct employee interviews, and how to write the audit report. A new internal auditor can gain valuable skills, knowledge, and confidence by shadowing a trained and experienced auditor. If this is not possible internally, seek opportunities with sister companies, suppliers, consultants, and even customers.
An effective internal audit will:
- verify that procedures meet standard requirements;
- validate that practices conform to the procedures;
- evaluate the effectiveness of the practices.
Here are essential aspects to consider in the different phases of an internal audit:
Planning and Preparation
The steps to planning and preparing for internal audits are to:
- identify the scope of the audit, for example, the pest control program;
- create the audit checklist;
- notify relevant personnel and establish a mutually convenient time and date to conduct the audit.
Conduct the Audit
During the audit, it is essential to stay focused and positive. The goal is to review the effectiveness of and adherence to the company's policies, procedures, and practices.
Keep written notes to:
- identify areas requiring immediate attention;
- document both observations and interviews, giving specific details and objective evidence;
- explore the root causes of non-conformances;
- verify the processes to standard requirements;
- validate, where required, that the methods are effective.
- write a thorough report identifying both conformances and non-conformances.
- review with management to determine action plans for improvement.
When done correctly and thoroughly, internal audits provide valuable insights into your company's safety and quality program. They give employees a sense of achievement and the drive to continually improve. You can also show your customers that you are a reliable and committed partner and thus further strengthen the relationship. Performing effective internal audits is an asset that pays off in several ways.