Surprise internal audits in your ISO9001-2008 Quality System

Two weeks ago, while performing an internal audit at Company X, a fire department inspector showed up, without prior warning, to inspect the premises. The person who normally handles the inspections was on vacation. Another employee stepped in to help as best he could, but was unfamiliar with the myriad regulations and forms required by the fire department, and the inspector was quite argumentative. The inspection did not go well. It looked like the inspector was going to levy a hefty fine on the company.

It dawned on me that the fire department, like many governmental agencies these days, may be more interested in generating revenue than in making sure companies are in compliance with regulations. If the company was not in compliance with requirements, with a few days’ notice I guarantee the company would be 100 percent in compliance by the time the inspector arrived. If the fire department inspector was genuinely interested in safety and helping companies, a little advance notice would have helped the company to ensure the correct person was available on the day of the inspection.

I’m sure there are plenty of good, well-meaning government inspectors out there, but on this particular day the good guys were somewhere else.

About a week later, the owner of another company asked me to conduct a surprise internal audit on his staff. It’s a small, friendly group of people, and I know the owner means well. The company only recently passed their ISO9001-2008 registration audit. The owner has concerns about his people taking their new quality system seriously, and he wants to make sure everything is as it should be.

In this case, a surprise audit probably isn’t a bad thing, it’s not like the company is going to be fined if there are nonconformances. I’m sure a few of the employees will not be thrilled at having to take some time away from their tasks to participate in my audit. But, especially since the quality system is new, hopefully the audit will uncover areas that are not being taken seriously, and will help people to get in the habit of signing purchase orders, inspecting received goods, signing off on customer shipments, etc.

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