ISO 14001:2015 Audit Questions — Finding the Right Answers

ISO 14001:2015 Audit Questions — Finding the Right Answers

You've done the hard work and implemented an environmental management system, and you're ready to take the next steps: auditing and certification. But it's normal to have some concerns about what ISO 14001:2015 audit questions you will face.
When you're contemplating ISO 14001 questions and answers, it's important to remember the auditor is not trying to catch you doing something wrong. The auditor's goal is to confirm that your environmental management system meets the standard.
With that in mind, there's still a wide range of questions that the auditor could ask. We'll go over some sample ISO 14001 audit questions to make sure you're prepared for the audit and interview.

What Is ISO 14001:2015?

Before discussing what questions auditors will ask for an ISO 14001 audit, it might be helpful to review what ISO 14001:2015 is. Certification to ISO 14001 demonstrates that a company has an environmental management system that addresses significant environmental aspects of its operation, enhances environmental performance and mitigates adverse environmental impacts. ISO 14001 is a popular standard, with more than 300,000 certifications in 171 countries.
ISO 14001 audit questions and answers will focus on the seven essential sections that outline the standard's most crucial environmental management system requirements:

  1. Context
  2. Leadership
  3. Planning
  4. Support
  5. Operation
  6. Performance Evaluation
  7. Improvement

The company needs to demonstrate that it established and maintained its environmental management system policies using the clauses outlined within those seven sections. The audit criteria touch on environmental performance, environmental objectives, compliance obligations, internal and external communications, emergency preparedness and intended outcomes, just to name a few topics.

The Benefits of ISO 14001:2015 Certification

Some companies pursue ISO 14001 certification at a customer's request, but there are many other advantages of implementing an environmental management system. Benefits msy include:

  • Lower operating costs and waste
  • Improved corporate image and marketing capabilities
  • Enhanced health and safety conditions for employees and the larger community
  • Potentially less regulatory oversight

A robust environmental management system also can foster a culture of continual improvement, which is a critical benefit in and of itself. It's crucial to understand how your company benefits from certification because some ISO 14001 questions and answers might touch on why the company implemented its environmental management system.

Top ISO 14001:2015 Audit Questions

All auditors have their own lists of ISO 14001:2015 audit questions and their own interview styles. Prior to any audit, your auditor will provide a detailed audit plan that will detail the scope of the audit so you can be prepared with any required people and materials in adavance.  But you can be reasonably sure you'll be asked some version of the following sample questions:

  • What Is your Environmental Management System policy?
  • What are your Environmental Management System objectives?
  • How do you control and maintain documentation?
  • What is your internal audit schedule and how do you manage findings from those audits?
  • What are your environmental system aspects and impacts?

Sample ISO 14001 Audit Questions for Management

A management review is an integral part of an internal audit and will be a focus of an external auditor. Sample ISO 14001 audit questions that management may face include:

  • What is the organizational context of your environmental management system?
  • Who are the interested parties?
  • What is your environmental management system's objective setting?

Clearly explain the objectives to top management and speak their language to ensure they understand that providing evidence of compliance is a crucial goal.

Sample ISO 14001 Audit Questions for Employees

Production employees also will be involved in the ISO 14001 interview. Sample ISO 14001 audit questions for employees cover topics like:

  • Demonstrating that procedures defined and detailed in the Environmental Management System are being followed
  • How their tasks help the company achieve the commitments outlined in the Environmental Management System
  • General knowledge and awareness of the Environmental Management System

If your environmental management system has been appropriately established, and maintained, these should be straightforward questions for employees to answer.

ISO 14001:2015 Audit Preparation Tips

Now that we've discussed potential ISO 14001 interview questions and answers, let's talk about how to prepare for the audit and interview. The most important tip is to relax. An audit is not intended to assign blame to anyone. It is a sample of processes intended to determine the effectiveness of the management system. The responder should not feel pressure to answer something they simply don’t know or aren’t aware of.  If the responder isn’t sure of an answer, it is ok to say so. The auditor is not trying to catch someone doing anything wrong.

Other helpful tips include:
  • Be well-prepared — Utilize the audit plan provided by your auditor to help your team prepare. Typically these are issued at least a month or two months ahead of the audit. If you have questions on the audit plan, contact your auditor or your certification body.
  • Take internal audits seriously — A rigorous internal audit can help employees and top management prepare for the external audit and interview.
  • Implement corrective actions — It's not enough to document nonconformances. You also must have a plan in place to address recurring issues.
  • Complete that management review — A thorough management review can expose additional areas that need to be addressed. Perform it early enough to provide time to fix issues that arise.
  • Monitor objectives correctly — Be able to demonstrate that you've tracked your progress on meeting objectives over time. 
  • Schedule a pre-assessment or gap analysis — While third-party auditors can’t provide consulting and will not tell you how to set up or manage your system, they can identify gaps ahead of the certification audit. Doing so will go a long way to giving you peace of mind that you will be prepared. Plus, you’ll get to meet your auditor ahead of time and can begin forming a strong relationship. Smithers offers pre-assessments, so contact us to learn more.

Get the Answers You Need to Your ISO 14001:2015 Audit Questions

Still have ISO 14001:2015 audit questions of your own? Smithers has years of experience helping clients through the ISO 14001 certification and audit process. Contact us today to take advantage of our expertise.

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