International Standards: The role of an auditor

When Ultimate Languages started along the road to being ISO-certified, we engaged with the Association of Translation Companies’ (ATC) certification service where we met Sam Somerville of Jigsaw Quality. Sam would eventually become our auditor for the ISO 17100:205 standard in Translation Services; guiding us through the whole process whilst offering us advice and suggested improvements along the way.

Although it’s good to hear how we, as a company, went through the certification process, we decided to sit down with Sam to ask her about her role in the process.

Can you please start by telling us a little bit about you and how you became an auditor?

I was working for the government and became part of a restructure. One of the jobs that was available to apply for was in the Quality Management team and I thought it looked really interesting. My application was successful, so I began learning all about quality management and completed training to be a Lead Auditor.

Although I kind of ‘fell’ into quality management, once I started learning about it, I realised that I had been applying the principles for a long time – I just didn’t realise that it was anything to do with ISO!

What are the main responsibilities of an auditor?

At a basic level, auditors are just checking that people/companies are doing what they say they do and are meeting the requirements specified.

In my case, I’m checking that the companies I visit on behalf of the Association of Translation Companies (ATC) are meeting the requirements of ISO standards.

As I will be making a recommendation to the ATC Certification Committee regarding a company’s suitability for certification, my responsibility is to observe and interrogate company practices so that my recommendation is based on sound and verifiable evidence.

Which international standards do you specialise in?

My main specialism is ISO 9001:2015, but through the ATC I have also gained experience in language industry standards such as ISO17100:015 for Translation Services, ISO 18587:2018 for Machine Translation Post-Editing, and more recently ISO 18841:2018 General Interpreting and ISO 20228:2019 Legal Interpreting.

I also provide audits and consultancy for ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management Systems and ISO 45001:2018 Occupational Health & Safety.

Could you please provide an overview of the audit process?

I need to be able to quickly build a good understanding of how the company meets the requirements of the standards I am auditing against.

I try to do this in a fairly relaxed and informal way as I need people to feel comfortable to share their ‘real’ story so we will start the audit off with a chat about the business, staff, services and locations etc. so that I understand the context.

Depending on the standard, we will also cover items such as leadership, objectives and performance monitoring.

Next step is to look at some actual examples of activities, whether that is bringing a new vendor on board, training existing staff or running a project. I will look at several examples of each activity so that I can build my understanding of whether they are following their own procedures and whether these meet the requirements of the standards.

During this sampling, I will also be chatting to staff involved to gauge their level of understanding and competence.

I always feed back anything that I’m not sure of, or if I think there is something that would benefit from more attention – but I also feed back where I feel that something is being done well or adding extra value to the business!

When I feel that I have seen enough to support a recommendation regarding certification, we will have some time to discuss the day, ask any further questions or clarify any items that are unclear

When it comes to preparing for an international standard, where should organisations start? What’s the first thing they should do?

The first thing that companies should do is get a copy of the standard and read it!

In your experience, what are the most common challenges organisations face when implementing best practice in line with international standards?

One of the most common challenges is a lack of understanding or poor advice that leads to vastly over-complicated systems and documentation!

‘Keep it simple’ is always the best advice! Try to understand the core of the requirements and build around that in a way that adds value to your business.

Once an organisation has achieved its first international standard, is it relatively straight forward to work towards another one?

This might depend on what standard they achieved first and how they implemented it, but generally, this will be the case.

ISO 9001:2015 is a business management system and therefore more involved than the ‘operational’ standards such as ISO 17100:2015 and ISO 18587:2018 so if the company has been certified in the language standards first then there will be some extra elements needed such as internal audits.

The language standards sit perfectly within ISO 9001, so once a company has that, the other standards are simple additions, and the competency requirements for ISO 17100 and 18587 are largely the same.

Do you have a final word of advice for anyone looking to implement an international standard?

Go for it! But keep it simple.

Jigsaw Quality

Offering a range of consultancy and auditing services, Sam works collaboratively with clients to develop an environment where quality and continual improvement are fully integrated into company processes, building understanding and ownership across all areas of the business and supporting the identification and implementation of strategies and processes to create efficiencies within your business, resulting in savings of both time and money.

Solutions include; full support to ISO certification; review and audit of existing Management Systems; continual improvement projects to focus on a specific area; internal audit services and reports; training in areas such as ISO, auditing or continual improvement; specialist support for Language Service Providers including ISO 17100:2015 Translation Services, ISO 18587:2018 Machine Translation Post-Editing, 18841:2018 General Interpreting and ISO 20228:2019 Legal Interpreting; and ongoing support.

Most importantly, Sam works to ensure that your company takes ownership of your Management System and has a full understanding of the role it has in supporting the development of your business.

We would like to thank Sam for taking the time to talk to us about her role as an auditor. We can safely say that she has been a pleasure to work with over the last year and we’re really looking forward to welcoming her back to the Ultimate offices for our next annual review.

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