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How an Integrated Management System (IMS) Audit Works

How an Integrated Management System (IMS) Audit Works

Understand how an Integrated Management System (IMS) audit works and what particularities you need to consider in this process!

Today we will talk about a very important topic: the functioning of an IMS (Integrated Management System) audit. Many companies looking to expand their management system (MS) have questions about how the audits will occur, fearing that they might become too complex. However, this article will reassure you!

For this content, let’s imagine an audit of the three most used standards in the world: ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 45001. However, it’s worth noting that an IMS is a system that unites and coordinates two or more management systems into a unified structure. So, this text is applicable to any integrated standards you may have in your company.

Keeping the IMS aligned with the company’s objectives and the correct maintenance of organizational guidelines greatly facilitates the coordination and alignment of processes to the results that the company expects, as well as helps to reduce not only costs but also the workload with the involved MSs. Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s see how an IMS audit works.


How does the audit cycle work in integrated certifications?

In summary, the audit cycle is the number and frequency of audits a company must undergo to start from scratch and keep a certification up to date. For this, several meetings are required, each with its own importance and specific focus.

This cycle typically corresponds to the following stages:

  • 1st contact – internal audit;
  • Pre-audit by a third party (optional);
  • Initial certification audit – Stage 1 and Stage 2;
  • Certification recommendation, certificate issuance, and system maintenance;
  • Recertification audit.

In this article, we will focus on the peculiarities of an IMS audit, so we will not delve into explaining each of these stages. However, we have a complete article that shows in detail what is done at each stage of the cycle and its importance, in addition to talking about other interesting aspects of the process.

Click here to better understand how the audit cycle works in ISO certifications.


Peculiarities of an Integrated Management System (IMS) Audit

An audit is a verification process that aims to compare criteria to what is actually carried out on a day-to-day basis in companies. These criteria are precisely the standards (requirements and guidelines) adopted by the organization.

Thus, in simple terms, there is not much difference between auditing 1 standard or auditing 3 standards. The audit cycle remains the same, unless the company and auditors find it better to add something due to the context of the processes.

Therefore, the most significant change is the increase in the number of requirements to be audited, so the number of interviews may also increase, as well as the amount of compliance evidence. This leads us to some peculiarities:


Planning of the integrated audit and audit trails

Auditing systems in an integrated manner is much more efficient than auditing each standard separately. Imagine having to rely on three distinct moments to audit the company. The costs for lodging and transportation of auditors would be multiplied by 3. This, in addition to stopping employees and processes three times for interviews and other procedures.

On the other hand, for this audit to be truly efficient, the certifying body needs to plan the audit route (also called audit trails) very well. Generally, companies with an IMS are large and have many employees. Thus, poor planning can cause unnecessary interruptions, auditor idle time, and low audit assertiveness.

At this point, an IMS audit requires much more contact between the company and the lead auditor than an audit of just one MS. Here at QMS, we train our auditors to optimize the planning, making the most of the available time and reducing the interruption of our client’s employees to the necessary minimum.


Interdependence of Regulatory Requirements

Another interesting aspect is understanding that an IMS audit needs to take into account all the audited systems and that they can be interdependent.

For example, the ISO 9001, 14001, and 45001 standards may have requirements that are directly connected to achieving product/service conformity and customer satisfaction. In these cases, for instance, the management of quality risks can directly influence environmental risk management or even occupational health and safety.

Therefore, auditors need to be qualified to understand that an integrated audit considers these interdependencies. This will make a total difference when conducting interviews and reviewing documents, as well as the correct recording of potential non-conformities will help the company to make better resolutions.


Focus on Evaluating the Quality of Integration

This aspect is not always discussed or taken into account. But an integrated management system needs to be designed to maximize the company’s potential and reduce the resources employed in maintaining the system itself. In other words, the IMS needs to be effective and efficient!

Thus, while individual audits may focus exclusively on compliance with the specific requirements of a single standard, an IMS audit also assesses the effectiveness of the integration of these systems and processes.

Therefore, auditors will also point out potential improvements or non-conformities in the integration of the management systems used. We must not forget that ISO created the notorious Annex SL precisely to facilitate and simplify the integration of management systems, so it would not be correct to have various systems operating independently within your company, right?


An IMS Audit is Key to Business Success

Clearly, the ultimate goal of an IMS is to ensure that the organization is operating in accordance with the pre-established standards – whether for quality, environment, occupational health and safety, or any other standards.

However, we must not forget that integrated management systems need to be designed to help organizations in various ways:

  • achieve operational efficiency;
  • reduce redundancies;
  • improve internal communication;
  • ensure correct system documentation;
  • facilitate audits;
  • evidence compliance;
  • increase customer satisfaction;
  • and much more!

Therefore, instead of maintaining separate systems, organizations need to consolidate their management into a single IMS. And integrated audits are the best and safest way to achieve excellence. They help keep the system simpler and eliminate bureaucracy, point out non-conformities and opportunities for improvement in operation, and help to continuously improve the system as a whole.

Of course, this is if they are executed correctly and by competent professionals. With this in mind, always count on QMS Certification to boost your results, improve your systems, and ensure a company with an IMS that truly delivers results!

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QMS Certification

QMS is an accredited third party certification body, it is currently present in 33 countries and focuses on the certification of management systems. QMS America is managed by the US office and has consistently grown in market recognition by technical level, customer satisfaction and competitive pricing.

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