Importance of Opening Meetings

Many Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) do not conduct effective opening meetings. These are extremely important and a valuable part of the audit process for obvious reasons. We have witnessed many auditors in different parts of the world conducting management system audits and not paying much attention to this important element. They simply rush into the auditing of the management system(s) without setting the tone for the audit in positive manner.

Below is a breakdown of how each on-site management system audit should be started (opening meeting).

Opening Meeting

The opening meeting is one of the most important events in the history of our dealings with new and existing clients and therefore it must be handled with the utmost precision in terms of its conduct. It introduces, possibly for the first time, real live representatives of our company, and can set the scene for the audit and all future dealings with the client. It is a great forum to create a relaxed atmosphere and to put the audit organisation (client) at ease.

The following is the minimum agenda that we cover at the opening meeting. We aim to make sure that the client is extremely clear about each thing we table at every opening meeting. There is nothing worse than the auditees not understanding what is happening during each part of the audit. We encourage our clients to question everything that they do not fully understand.

1. Introduction

We always introduce the audit team members, we sometimes lighten things up by saying something like ‘You have the pleasure of the company of my colleague and myself for the next 8 hours (two days, or whatever), I hope it will be a pleasure and not the reverse!”… we try to put the client at ease so they get value from the audit event, no-one likes stressful audits so we try so hard to ensure the client is not stressed.

2. Confirm Scope and Objectives of the Assessment

We either confirm that the scope is unchanged or we ascertain exactly what the new scope wording is that is required by the client. We must remember that the scope cannot be developed into something that entails a new industry classification or the audit team may not be correctly qualified to then proceed with the audit. The new scope should be recorded on the Opening Meeting Checklist or it can be left to the closing meeting if the company wishes to have more time to discuss the exact wording amongst themselves.

We also need to explain the exact objective of each audit visit. The objective is usually to check the organisation’s level of compliance against the chosen management system standard(s).

3. Confirm communications, resources and escorts

We always confirm who our lines of communication will be, who is available to help us to ensure that the audit runs smoothly and who will be showing us around and introducing us to the key audit personnel.

4. Current Number of Employees

We always check the numbers of employees for each company we audit at the opening meeting to ensure that we are tracking the size of the organisation.

5. Confirm auditor confidentiality

We should point out that everything that the audit team sees during the audit will remain confidential (even though as one MD said to one of our team leaders, if you tell me what our opposition does in their business, we will keep it confidential!!). We must also explain how we all sign confidentiality agreements that are legally binding to ensure confidentiality is maintained at all times.

6. Explain the audit program and the reporting process for deficiencies

We feel it is important to run through the audit plan at the opening meeting to ensure that there is no surprises for the client, we give an overview of what we will be looking at throughout the course of the audit event.

We should point out that if there are only Minor CARs at the end of the audit, then the client has to do nothing but commit to correcting the deficiencies and giving their responses as required. If there are any Major CARs, then the client has to either complete the corrective action and have it re-audited to close out the CAR or do enough of the corrective action such that if the remaining problem were on its own, it would be graded as a Minor and as such the Major can now be downgraded to Minor status.

Registration cannot proceed with open Major CARs or no responses to Minor CARs.

7. Confirm time and place for closing meeting

We explain that the schedule is flexible and if managers or their employees are required to carry out certain tasks during the course of the audit, then the audit team will try to accommodate this as much as possible.

It is essential that the closing meeting time is confirmed, this should have been printed on the assessment schedule sent to the client in advance of the audit. Under no circumstances should this meeting be late; if there are extenuating circumstances over which the audit team had no control, then the management team should be informed as early as possible of the new meeting time.

8. Appeals process

We always explain that if the client does not agree with any CARs that there is an appeals process that is outlined in the certification criteria that all clients are issued with.

9. Audit Team Safety Induction

We always ask about the safety of the audit team and whether there are any significant hazards we may encounter. We request an induction if it has not been offered by the client.

Each client will normally have this covered without needing prompting from us.

These nine agenda items above are a very simple overview of the opening meeting.

All accredited CABs are required to run effective, informative and fact gathering opening meetings and they must be in compliance with ISO 17021-1 (the main standard that all CABs must comply with).

We included this as a news article because we had an enquiry from an organisation asking us to clarify what should be covered at the opening meetings.

If you have any enquiries regarding assessment and certification of management systems please feel free to contact us.

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