Standards: a key driver of business excellence

Standards: a key driver of business excellence

Doing business with an ISO-certified (standards-driven) company provides the reassurance that one is dealing with a professional, reliable, and responsible entity. In this way, businesses can protect their own brand, explains OLIVER NAIDOO, managing director and founder of JC Auditors.

Businesses and individuals the world over are impacted by standards. All International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards are risk-based, helping businesses to manage risk and grow efficiently and sustainably. These standards also assure customers that they are getting top-quality products and services from businesses that have a strong environmental, social, and governance approach.

All businesses can benefit from adopting standards, regardless of their size or industry sector, from emerging entrants to corporate powerhouses; small caterers to retail businesses; and transportation, construction, manufacturing, and engineering firms to software development businesses.

The business benefits that can result from standards include reduced time, effort, and money required for investment into the research and development of new products, while increasing the likelihood that these products will succeed in the marketplace.

Standards can provide best-practice guidance, helping businesses to assess their processes, thereby allowing them to take steps to increase efficiency and become more profitable. Complying with recognised standards can also provide a competitive advantage and could well be a deciding factor when a buyer chooses between two comparable suppliers.

Standards also provide businesses with a reliable and consistent reference point, which can help to reduce the risk of nonconforming products or services. As a result, businesses can save both time and money while reducing the likelihood of damaging their reputations.

All standards are voluntary – businesses are not legally obliged to introduce them. However, compliance can help a business to meet its mandatory legal obligations regarding product safety, environmental protection, and other considerations. In some markets, it is not possible to sell goods unless they meet certain quality and safety criteria. Being standards-compliant can save time, effort, and expense, while giving added peace of mind that responsibilities have been met.

To claim compliance with a standard, it is necessary to buy, read, and implement its requirements in all relevant areas of the business. For added weight, some businesses choose to have their compliance verified by an accredited certification body such as JC Auditors.

The recent introduction of a high-level structure to ISO management systems standards allows for a more efficient approach to implementing an integrated management system, rather than trying to manage separate standards or systems.

There are some critical keys to the successful integration of systems:

  • ISO 9001:2015 (Quality Management Systems) provides the foundational framework. One should leverage this standard to establish the basic minimum business requirements.
  • Identify one system or tool to support all the standards or business requirements – do not implement different tools for individual standards.
  • Keep things simple – don’t create redundant documentation that is difficult to manage and maintain.
  • ISO 9001:2015 is essentially more of a business infrastructure than a quality standard. The standard requirements are really a business plan outline:
  • Understand the context of your organisation and what is expected by interested parties.
  • Leadership is responsible for the business.
  • Decisions and activities are built on risk and planning.
  • Determine what support is necessary for the business – infrastructure, competence, documentation, and resources.
  • Define the key activities for actually producing a product or service, including the activities that you outsource to others.
  • Measure the performance of your processes – how do you determine whether you are meeting the intended results?
  • Continuously improve your systems and processes. Identify non-conformances and address the root cause of issues to prevent a recurrence.

All standards are based on these key foundational concepts with added criteria for the specific focus areas of the relevant standards, as per the following list of examples:

ISO 14001:2015 – Environmental management systems;

ISO 45001:2018 – Occupational health and safety management systems;

ISO 22000:2018 – Food safety management systems;

ISO 13485:2016 – Medical devices;

ISO 3834:2006 – Quality requirements for fusion welding.

One could safely build all of these management systems on the framework of ISO 9001:2015, in the form of an integrated management system.

The first critical step to the successful implementation of an integrated system is the definition of the critical business plan or strategy. In other words, determine what the organisation is trying to accomplish with the system, the key elements to be addressed, and the scope of the operations. You should also create a process map or interaction diagram of the key processes.

The next key step is to identify a process owner or driver for each of the key processes. Ownership includes the definition of responsibility and accountability to ensure the processes achieve the intended goals. Rather than setting the various standards and processes to compete with each other, identify opportunities to leverage the activities and eliminate or reduce redundancies. This synergy will also eliminate unnecessary complexity and costs from the overall business plan.

Once you have identified the key processes and activities, you can begin the process of selecting the appropriate tools to support the system. A requirements document is the best way to organise the company’s needs and expectations for tools. It is not necessary to have separate tools for each standard or regulation. The ISO audit approach is increasingly focused on a risk-based, process approach and is moving away from the previous tendency to be document focused. So, in developing one’s system, the focus should be on aligning the processes to deliver on the various objectives of the respective standards – for example:

  • Reduce customer returns by 2% by December 2022 (Quality);
  • Improve heavy vehicle fuel consumption to 30 litres per 100 km by June 2023 (Environmental/Emissions Reduction);
  • Decrease Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR) by 1% by September 2022 (Occupational Health and Safety).

Most important of all is to keep things simple! Don’t overcomplicate the systems. Many of the standards require you to maintain minimum documentation. Based on the common structure of the standards, the documentation required will be similar for the core processes. Consider building a cross-reference matrix to identify these overlaps in requirements. For example, one document can be generated to address all document control requirements for the various standards and regulations. A well-written document provides greater flexibility and compliance to the requirements than individual documents created for each system. The cross-reference matrix is used to demonstrate which requirements the document or record is designed to meet.

Evaluate your current procedures and work instructions. Do they reflect your current practices and are they necessary? In the past, work instructions were created for almost every task within an operation. Once the employees are properly trained, they rarely refer to these documents. Eliminate those documents that are not critical to the quality of the product or process. Make your forms “smart” forms that include work instructions where necessary, rather than writing separate work instructions to complete a task.

Overall, these steps will provide the opportunity for greater compliance, improve efficiency, and lower overall costs to manage your business, whilst providing customer assurance of one’s credibility and professionalism.

Standards and their associated certification audits are intended to add value and improve business operations. If your certification audits are not adding value, perhaps consider using an alternative certification body with a fresh approach to stimulate your business and aid business growth. ISO certification audits, after all, are intended to enable – not frustrate – business.

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SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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