04 Apr 2019

AUDITING RISK-BASED THINKING

As we work with clients, we find increasing examples of certification bodies requiring risk to be documented within an organization. This despite ISO 9001 specifically not requiring so!

This then brings up the question, “How should we audit the requirements of risk-based thinking within an organization when the same has not been documented using a formal risks management system or methodologies such as FMEA?”.

Let us start with the intent of including ‘risk-based thinking’ in the standard, replacing the previous requirement for ‘preventive action’. Risk-based thinking has been included as a preventive measure with the intent of making an organization more proactive to identifying and addressing potential non-conformities (NCs) than to be reactive to NCs. Additionally, rather than limit preventive action to the end of the PDCA cycle it is now addressed throughout the standard with the concept of risk-based thinking. To therefore answer the question posed above auditors need to evidence risk-based thinking throughout the system starting with the management down through the operator/service provider.

Before we begin to discuss the process for doing this let us for recall how many times a preventive action has been raised within our organization when the requirement did exist under ISO 9001:2008. In my auditing experience the answer is rarely! This in essence defeats the purpose of what the standard was trying to achieve.

Before we begin to audit risk based thinking the auditor should get an understanding from management of the context of the organization and the needs of the interested parties relevant to the organization as identified by them. Keep in mind the requirement of Clause 4.1 and 4.2 also need not be documented. Further what are the risks that management has associated with the organization achieving its strategic direction. We can also evidence the records of the management review to assess the inputs provided to management per Clause 9.3.2 e.

Once we have the above understanding from leadership, we then look for evidence on how the organization has addressed the risks as identified by leadership. These may include as an example risks to meeting business/process objectives, risks from loss of personnel, risks from new legislation that may impact the organization etc. As we audit the organization, we are looking to assess how the processes have been resourced and controlled in order to manage the risk of not meeting the process objective or customer/regulatory requirements. Risk based thinking is inherent in the clauses for design where organizations are asked to consider the potential causes of failure, in the purchasing process where the organization is asked to select external providers based on their ability to provide products/services meeting requirements, in the planning of audits, in the determination of customer requirements (intended use & unstated requirements), in the resourcing of the system, in the fitness for purpose of monitoring and measuring equipment and in the determination of potential similar non-conformities when taking corrective action.

The above is but a sample of where the application of risk-based thinking can be evidenced. Further information from analysis of data per clause 9.1.3 is further sued as a source for improvement as per clause 10.1 and all of this can be evidenced in the system.

So then why are certification body auditors seeking a documented risk-management system? Auditees too often do not push back when such a “requirement” is brought up. It does make the audit easier if everything is documented including risk but then are, we really ensuring the effective application of the standard. The organization could meet this “requirement” for documentation of risk by just documenting two or three risks and monitoring the effectiveness of actions taken to address them. This would meet the auditors requirement but then what about other applicable risks? These would then do unaddressed as the organization will tend to focus on the documented ones, killing the system!

Let us determine the need to document the risks within our system or NOT and not be pressured into documenting our system to meet the needs of auditors.