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Jan 20, 2021

Remote auditing comes to the forefront during pandemic

Timo Salonen
Timo Salonen
Senior Manager, QEHS compliance and auditing
Remote auditing is a topic that jumped to the top of our future processes list at the beginning of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic started to show its true nature. The imposed restrictions have forced innovative measures in many areas and tasks, and conducting audits successfully via video is certainly one positive outcome of an otherwise very problematic and unfortunate situation.
Man uses VR glasses while taking part in remote auditing at manufacturing premises.

My role in the company is to conduct QEHS (Quality, Environment, Health and Safety) related audits in our own production premises and at customer sites. We look for deficiencies and determine corrective actions, but we also point out good practices and initiatives. The purpose is to support our locations in implementing local, global and company-specific requirements and in developing local QEHS management systems. I have also assisted in the supplier sustainability audits overlooking the safety and environmental aspects.

COVID-19 has forced us to be extremely resourceful and open-minded in finding alternative methods to do our work; performing audits wasn’t an exception. Regardless of the pandemic, we must continue to ensure a safe working environment for all employees and contractors. QEHS audits play a major role in this. Also, supplier sustainability continues to be a priority, and the cooperation must continue even if travelling has stopped.

After carrying out more than 100 physical audits, I have a pretty good understanding of the requirements for a successful audit. We just needed to learn to do it in a different way, since physical visits were no longer safe or even possible in most cases. Video audits are very efficient, and they create clear cost savings in addition to environmental benefits. 

We must continue to ensure a safe working environment for all employees and contractors. Also the cooperation on supplier sustainability must continue even if travelling has stopped.

We conducted our first test audit in May 2020, and we have now conducted several internal QEHS and supplier sustainability remote audits. Technical devices and tools have obviously been the most critical matter. Simply put, a company phone with the Teams application is all that is needed, but smart glasses have also been used in some locations. At the beginning, we ran multiple tests in order to find the best way to operate via Teams. There were many things to consider, such as information security and privacy issues, recording time limitations, file size and the safety of the crew doing the tour to name a few, but now we are starting to get the hang of it.

QEHS remote audit in practice

Our QEHS remote audit process starts by having the location gather and send information about the premises being audited prior to the audit. The location must send the factory floor plan with area details and a list of the machines two weeks prior to the audit. This way the auditor can get familiar with the location in advance and point out certain places or equipment that most definitely must be checked.

In preparation for the remote audit tour, the local audit team conducts a risk assessment to identify the hazards and to have the necessary controls in place to perform the audit safely. We then do a practice session before the actual audit to make sure everything is in working order.

The actual audit session starts with a discussion regarding the local processes and practices. The local team tells about the operations, ways of working, level of safety, biggest challenges and best practices. Then it is time to enter the premises for the audit tour.

The local audit team usually consists of the local QEHS manager who leads the factory tour, a camera operator that concentrates on handling the camera and a camera operator’s assistant to ensure the safety of the camera operator. Usually, the business area-specific QEHS person also takes part. The good thing about a remote audit is that it allows more people to attend on a shorter notice with more flexibility to join only for a specific part if necessary. Personnel are always informed about the remote audit by the management, and individual persons are not recorded.

The good thing about a remote audit is that it allows more people to attend on a shorter notice with more flexibility to join only for a specific part if necessary.

An actual live recording of the audit is a new advantage, and it also allows the auditor to return to the premises when preparing the audit report and to find even more matters to correct, matters that didn’t catch the eye the first time. The report points out the findings and defines the corrective actions that need to be taken within a certain timeline. Screen shots are used to demonstrate the findings. Corrective actions are also monitored to ensure the development work is done and that the measures are adequate.

Supplier audits to ensure compliance

We work closely with our suppliers to develop their sustainability practices and processes and to ensure a socially, environmentally and economically responsible value chain. We conduct supplier sustainability audits to support their sustainability actions and to ensure that they comply with all necessary laws, regulations and standards. Our third-party audits cover many aspects of sustainability, including safety, environment, product safety, labor and other human rights, and risk management. The audit team usually consists of many people, both from the supplier’s and our own organization, representing procurement and supplier quality.

In 2020, the supplier audit program also had to adopt alternative measures to be able to carry on with the compliance checks. So, we took the same video audit practice to our suppliers’ premises. Prior to the audit, the suppliers are asked to complete a sustainability audit self-assessment. We have also recognized that it would be beneficial to request some preliminary information, such as general product manufacturing information, machinery list and factory lay-out, prior to the remote audit.

For the first supplier video audit, my role was to share the technical best practices learned in the safety audits. I also concentrated on the safety and environmental issues during the factory tour. Supplier audits are comprehensive and focus on many sustainability aspects. Findings are reported and a corrective action plan is also made with the suppliers after each sustainability audit. The corrective actions are monitored, and additional support is provided when necessary.

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