ISO defines an audit as a “systematic, independent and documented process for obtaining audit evidence and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which audit criteria are fulfilled” (ISO 9000:2015).
In other words are you doing what you say you are doing! Importantly good Quality Assurance goes beyond asking do you do what you say you do but also asks the question, is it working? Even better is, can we do do it more efficiently? Quality Assurance auditing when conducted in this way not only provides confidence or “assurance” that the organisation is meeting its compliance obligations but also improve the processes and ultimately the system as a whole. As W. Edwards Deming stated “Improve constantly and forever the product and the means of production”!
According to ICAO SMM 10.3.18 ICAO defines an audit as “A proactive, core safety management activity for systematically assessing how well an organisation is meeting its safety objectives and for identifying potential problems before they have an impact on safety.”
This definition adds an additional and vitally important element to auditing. Do the systems and processes we have in place provide us with the required safety outcomes? Are there hazards and latent conditions sitting idly within our organisation just waiting to one day contribute to an incident or worse accident sequence? Effective Safety Assurance audits aim to identify these potential problems before they have a negative impact on our organisation.
Unfortunately there are many negative connotations associated with audits however an audit needs to be viewed as a positive experience and should provide opportunities for improvement. An audit is not an exercise just to identify problems and weaknesses but also to highlight the strengths and positives in an organisation. An audit should provide management confidence that documented procedures and policies are being successfully implemented in their organisation. The audit process is a key pillar and a main driver in any Quality or Safety Management System.