Audits are a necessary “evil” that we all must endure when working in a geotechnical testing laboratory. Audits can be from an outside accreditation agency, a client for a specific project or simply an internal audit for quality review purposes. The scope of the audit may be a review of your quality system but it may also include specific tests that your laboratory performs.
Getting prepared is an essential part of a successful outcome of the audit process. Start with the who, what, where, when and why questions – and review the quality documents that cover those answers.
- Who will work with the auditor? Check their training record for the tests they will demonstrate and make sure it is up to date.
- What equipment and materials will be required? Check that the equipment is in good condition and has a current calibration record. Also obtain a test specimen to use that will demonstrate the best possible test. Be sure to include all general equipment to be used including the oven, scale, measuring devices as well as the unique equipment for that test.
- Where will the demonstration occur? Find a clean appropriate place, within the correct ambient temperature requirements for the test to be demonstrated.
- When will the audit take place? Make sure the technician is prepared, has brushed up on the test method and is ready to perform.
- Why? Being prepared will better ensure a positive outcome. Don’t be nervous and chat about the test, you might shoot yourself in the proverbial foot. If you must chat, talk about a trip, sports or the weather – anything else. Answer the questions the auditor asks but keep it short and concise. If you can’t remember or do not know the answer, now is not the time to start inventing or reinventing procedures. Do what you would normally do, look it up or ask advice from an experienced technician or even your manager. Auditors appreciate seeing that you know enough to ask for help, when necessary. Auditors also know that people get nervous while being watched. It will be okay!
Audits can cover the testing procedures, but some will also cover your overall Quality System that you have in place for your daily operations. For these types of audits, remember the auditor is using your Quality Manual to check that your operations are actually “what you say you do,” as outlined; they will ask for records to verify. The Quality Manual follows the guidelines required in oversight documents that recommend how a reputable facility will operate. They cover a wide range of the activities involved in the operation of the business. These include but are not limited to:
- Non-conforming items
- Corrective action
- Preventative action
- Calibration of Material Testing Equipment (MTE) including intervals
- Management oversight
- Management reviews
Check that your documents are readily available and up to date.
As someone who has gone through this process countless times, year after year, my advice in preparing for an audit is as follows:
- Relax, you know what you are doing.
- Relax, your records are up to date.
- Relax, your technicians are experienced and well trained.
- Relax, the auditor is always there to help.
- Relax, an auditor finding issues will in the long run make your laboratory stronger.
- Relax, you will gain knowledge and move ahead more confident than before.
- Take the auditor out to lunch and have a few laughs.
Nancy J. Hubbard is a Project Manager for GeoTesting Express and has been with the company for 21 years. Nancy has a BS in Civil Engineering from WPI and a ME(C) in Geotechnical Engineering and Geology from Cornell University. Nancy provides a key role in the lab working with and maintaining the Automated Testing Equipment, Quality System, and provides training, reporting and answering technical questions for employees in both the Acton and Atlanta GTX Labs, and for clients as well. Nancy is an active member of the ASTM D18 Committee which covers Soil and Rock Testing Standards and Methods.