Date modified: 2020-08-20
The COVID-19 pandemic is demonstrating that accreditation is more important than ever. During these challenging times, we need to adapt and continue to ensure that Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) can demonstrate their ability to successfully meet the recognized standards and/or regulatory requirements. Although the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) had already incorporated remote assessment guidance within our Accreditation Policy and remote assessments, the pandemic has propelled us to use this method more extensively than what we originally anticipated.
To ensure the health and safety of our staff and customers, we continue to encourage full and partial assessments be performed remotely during this period. This document provides guidelines and information on the remote assessment process, how to prepare for a remote assessment, and some tips.
- Remote Assessment/Inspection Feasibility
- Planning and Scheduling a Remote Assessment/Inspection
- How to Prepare for a Remote Assessment/Inspection
- During the Remote Assessment
- Post Remote Assessment / Accreditation Decision
- Helpful Resources
To evaluate if a remote assessment activity can be performed, SCC conducts a feasibility review. This review is completed in collaboration with the CAB; and we take into consideration important elements discussed in IAF ID12 – Principles on Remote Assessment. The document can be found on IAF’s website at www.iaf.nu.
Once we determine that a remote assessment is feasible, we will schedule a convenient time for both SCC and the CAB. If it is determined that a remote assessment cannot be completed or that only a partial assessment is possible, the accreditation team will discuss further options with the CAB.
We also offer the possibility of conducting witness audits and initial assessments remotely, on a case-by-case basis.
Depending on the accreditation program and the scope, SCC will determine the composition of the assessment team to ensure it will achieve the objectives of the assessment. SCC and the CAB will work together to ensure the CAB prepares and submits the requested documentation, giving the assessment team sufficient time to prepare for the assessment.
Generally, a remote assessment is structured similarly to a site assessment, including opening and closing meetings and a review of documented information. However, the length of the assessment may be more fragmented with individual activities happening over the course of a longer period. The CAB should communicate in advance with the SCC assessment team if paper documentation may limit or restrict sharing during a remote assessment.
The CAB also need to ensure that key personnel required are available for their relevant parts as the remote assessment progresses.
3.1. Choosing which Technology to Use
Communication technology plays a crucial role in conducting remote assessments. Moreover, SCC’s will assess a CAB’s compliance to the requirements set in IAF MD 4:2018 (mandatory document for the use of information and communication technology (ICT) for auditing/assessment purposes). In light of this, it’s the CABs responsibility to select information communication technology that suits their needs. We strongly encourage CABs to use a software platform application with a web-conferencing option since we recommend that both parties use screen sharing and web-cam functionality. It facilitates the transfer for large amounts of information that needs to be shared with the assessment team. Please refer to helpful resources below, for additional information.
To facilitate the conduct of the remote assessment, consider which information communication technology platform application meets your needs. There are numerous software platforms applications available, including, but not limited to:
- Microsoft Teams
- Zoom Meeting
- Google Meet
The CAB needs to ensure that its IT system will support one of these technologies, and that staff is comfortable using it. Please refer to our Helpful Resources section below to find links to help you with your decision. Once the CAB selects a technology, it needs to be communicated to the assessment team.
3.2. Test the Technology
SCC recommends that the CAB conducts a test session with its staff ahead of the scheduled assessment to ensure everyone is comfortable with the selected technology platform(s). This will allow the remote assessment to be conducted more efficiently and minimize delays. If connectivity fails during the assessment, our team will try to continue with the assessment wherever possible. If the issues persist, we may explore conducting the assessment by other means.
We also strongly encourage that all key personnel who take part in the remote assessment have basic knowledge of the key functionalities for the selected technology to avoid unnecessary delays.
3.3. Availability of Key Personnel
Since the remote assessment may be more fragmented than an onsite assessment, the CAB needs to ensure that personnel with specific technical or administrative responsibilities will be available for the respective parts. Depending on their expertise, they also may be required to answer any questions as the assessment progresses.
We also recommend having the CAB’s IT personnel available in case there is an issue with the selected technology.
3.4. Preparing the Documentation
To the extent possible, we will use the screen sharing and web-cam functionality to reduce the amount of information that needs to be transferred to our assessment team. However, our assessment team will likely request that specific documentation be shared in advance to facilitate the review. The assessment team will discuss the options with the CAB to ensure that the files are shared in a secure way such as via Sitescape, an FTP site, or any other secure location chosen by the CAB. This will be discussed and agreed upon with the CAB and the SCC assessment team.
The CAB is responsible for ensuring there is a secure solution for the retrieval and use of all documentation during assessment activities; and that SCC has access for use and review of assessment activity documentation (including screen sharing).
The CAB also needs to ensure the availability of all requested documented information during the remote assessment. Our assessment team will take detailed notes during the remote activity and will collect relevant documented evidence and records.
If the CAB offices are still closed and some of the documents are not accessible remotely, please discuss the issue with our assessment team to determine the best course of action.
The following documents are examples of what could be requested by our assessment team during the planning stage of the assessment process:
- Organization / Facility Floor Plans
- Management Review Minutes
- Non-conformity Reports and Complaints (where applicable)
- Personnel Training Records
Most of the elements that would normally be assessed as part of a physical on-site visit are evaluated using various assessment methods/techniques, including; the review of the documented information and interviews with key personnel. The most challenging element to perform remotely is the witnessing of technical activities.
4.1. Witnessing Assessment Activities
To witness the CAB’s technical activities, SCC’s assessment team will determine the most suitable assessment technique(s) and collaborate using the information communication technology, as selected by the CAB. This will be discussed and be agreed upon prior to the activity.
The following audit assessment techniques can be used for witnessing technical activities:
- Live streaming: This is the preferred method as our assessment team can view the activity being performed in real-time. The CAB needs to ensure that there is a stable internet connection at the location/site where the activity is being conducted.
- Video recordings: If the CAB has recent recordings for specific activities, which clearly demonstrates the current process and features the current key technical personnel – this method may be suitable. It’s important to note that the same key personnel will need to be available when the recordings are reviewed with the assessment team; to explain the procedure and answer any questions.
- Vertical assessment of recent work with key personnel: This method examines more than one element of a process, for a single activity. The CAB needs to ensure that the key personnel are present to explain the procedure (e.g., assess technical reports from concluded work to verify competence of the staff member).
- Technical interviews: When there is no current work that is available, a technical interview could be a suitable method. The CAB needs to ensure that the technical personnel are available during the remote assessment.
If none of these techniques or communication technologies are possible, the decision could be made that specific activities will be assessed at a later date. Please refer to the helpful resources below and speak with your assessment team.
4.2 Videoconferencing Tips
- Optimizing performance by closing other applications: Before starting the video conference, close any applications that are not needed, especially those that use significant CPU power.
- Taking precautions before sharing the screen: Any files or sensitive documentation should be closed to avoid sharing with others. It is also encouraged to enable the “Do Not Disturb” mode on computers to ensure others won’t accidentally see messages that could be sensitive.
- Testing the video and audio: Before starting the video call, ensure that both the video and audio devices are connected and working properly. Most video conferencing tools have a test call service that can be found under the options or settings menu in the video conferencing application.
- Muting the mic when not speaking: The mute functionality should be on at all times, except when the person is speaking. This will eliminate any background noise.
- Using a headset with microphone for clearer audio
- Turning off videoconference recording tools to ensure that the confidentiality of the discussion can be preserved.
If connectivity fails during the assessment, our team will try to continue with the assessment wherever possible. If the issues persist, we may explore conducting the assessment by other means.
Following the remote assessment, if nonconformities are found, the next steps will be the same as an onsite assessment to address findings respecting our 30 days and 90 days time frame. The CAB will need to provide the corrective action plan and evidence that the corrective actions were implemented. If the CAB is operating with reduced staff because of the pandemic or if physical space can’t be accessed to correct some of the findings, the assessment team will determine a suitable date with the CAB to submit evidence.
6.1 Remote Assessment Framework
Our remote assessment framework was developed considering the following guidance:
- ISO/IEC 17011:2017 Conformity assessment — Requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies
- ISO 19011:2018 Guidelines for auditing management systems – Annex 1.
- IAF MD 4:2018 IAF mandatory document for the use of information and communication technology (ICT) for auditing/assessment purposes
- IAF ID 3:2011 Management of Extraordinary Events or Circumstances Affecting ABs, CABs and Certified Organizations
- IAF ID 12:2015 Principles on Remote Assessment
- SCC Accreditation Policy
- SCC’s planning and scheduling policies and procedures
6.2 Information on Web Conferencing Applications
The information below is intended to provide general information to the CABs to help with the decision-making process on the technology to use. It is intended as a guide only and SCC is not endorsing any of these tools.
6.3 Contact us
To enquire about remote assessments for your organization or if you have any questions about this document, please contact our SCC Accreditation Services at firstname.lastname@example.org.