One of our lovely readers asked us to write about BRC auditor calibration, so that’s that’s exactly what we did!
Consistency when carrying out auditors is so crucial. So, how do BRC and the Certification Bodies make sure that their auditors are consistent in their approach?
We did some research and this is what we found…
First of all, let’s look at how you become a BRC auditor
To apply to be a BRC auditor you need to have:
- A degree or equivalent which is relevant to the subject you want to audit (e.g. food)
- A lead auditor qualification
- At least a 2-day HACCP qualification
- At least 5 years industry experience
- Have been involved in BRC audits in the past
If you have all that, then you need to have completed BRC training in the Standard(s) you want to audit.
So, in order to be an auditor you need to know how to audit (lead auditor qualification), have an understanding of HACCP (2-day course), have industry experience and BRC audit experience. Makes sense.
I don’t personally think a 2-day HACCP course will give you the skills you need to be able to audit HACCP, but that’s just my opinion. And as for the degree – I think this would eliminate a lot of really good auditors.
However, the only element of this that would provide consistency is the BRC training course. And, if you’ve been on one of these (as I have) you’ll know that it teaches you what the Standard says, but it doesn’t teach you what you need to do to be compliant.
So, if it doesn’t teach you what you need to be compliant, how does an auditor know what they need to see as evidence?
Once you are an auditor
You may have heard that BRC auditors now need to complete product specific training courses.
These courses ensure that the auditors understand the process of how the product is made and the safety implications. Which is great, as it’s really important for the auditor to know the fundamentals of the production process.
However, this doesn’t provide consistency.
BRC Certification Body star rating
The BRC assess the Certification Bodies to ensure that they are performing against a set criteria. Each Certification Body has to adhere to set of KPIs and every 6 months the BRC carries out a performance review.
The results of these performance review gives them their star rating, that you see on the BRC Directory.
When carrying out these reviews the BRC will look at:
- How well the Certification Body communicates with BRC
- The quality of the audit reports
- If their auditors are compliant with the required training
- How long it takes the Certification Body to upload audit reports to the BRC Directory
- How audits are completed and reported
So, the elements that assist with BRC auditor calibration, would be the quality of the audit reports and how audits are completed and reported.
They do this by auditing the process to their guidelines, but unfortunately this doesn’t assess how the practical side of the audit was conducted. It just checks if the audit report was filled out correctly and if the steps of the audit were aligned with the requirements.
BRC do carry shadow audits with the Certification Body’s auditors, but I’m not sure how many they do or what happens with the results.
If anyone at BRC is reading this, perhaps you could explain this in the reply box below?
Each audit report is reviewed before it’s approved and the certificate is generated.
During this process the Certification Body’s technical team assess the content of the audit report to ensure that they agree with the findings. At this stage they can remove or add non-conformances, if they don’t agree with the auditor.
Which means, this is the chance to ensure that there is consistency across audits completed by the Certification Body. It doesn’t stop there being inconsistencies between Certification Bodies though.
And, the technical review can only pick up theoretical inconsistencies, which have been documented. It won’t pick up practical inconsistencies.
Auditor calibration meeting
The BRC also require the Certification Bodies to carry out an annual auditor calibration meeting, to ensure that all auditors are on the same page.
I’m presuming BRC also hold an annual calibration meeting with all the Certification Bodies too, so that the ‘calibration’ can be distilled down to the auditors.
The Standard, even with the Interpretation Guide isn’t always clear. Every audit situation is different and not everything is black and white. We can only try to minimise the grey…
We’ve all had experience of auditors being inconsistent and the frustration this causes.
The auditors also have similar frustrations. I don’t know how many times I’ve been challenged on the non-conformances I’ve raised, because “that’s never been picked up before”.
An audit is only a snap-shot and you can’t look at every tiny little thing, but it would be good to try and make sure the BRC auditors are as consistent as possible.
We get audited at sites, to make sure the lab testing we do is consistent. It’s part of the Standard to do proficiency testing or ring testing. We think that BRC should do this too, to check that everyone understands the clauses in the Standard, in the same way and would apply the same non-conformance, in the same situation.
GlobalGAP have an Integrity Team, who carry out audits of their auditors, where they carry out an audit of a site, who has just been audited. They take the audit report and check to make sure that the non-conformances raised reflect the standard of the site. Perhaps this would be an alternative solution.
It is your right to decline an auditor if you don’t get on with them or you don’t think they are consistent. Please be aware though, that you should tell your Certification Body this when you book the audit, otherwise you may find they don’t have any other auditors available.
What are your thoughts?
So, what do you think? Have you had any experiences of auditor inconsistency that you would like to share? And, if you’re an auditor – do you have any suggestions on how consistency could be achieved?
You don’t need to use your real name, so you can share without fear of anyone knowing who you are. Only we see your email address and we will keep it secret.
We've tagged this article as: BRC audit protocol
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