Auditing our members in order to have confidence that certification standards are met is a fundamental part of the SER Scheme. While we endeavour to make the process as positive and constructive as possible, we fully understand that being audited would come fairly low down the list of most people’s favourite pastimes.

We thought it would be useful, therefore, to speak to some of our most experienced auditors and ask them what advice they would give to auditees in order to help the day (or days!) go smoothly and to hopefully lead to a positive outcome.

Why do we audit you?

It is a requirement of the SER scheme that all Approved Bodies and Certifiers have their certification activities audited on a periodic basis. We aim to audit all new members within the first year or so of their membership. An early audit can be an important way of ensuring that any misunderstandings of the Scheme requirements do not become too firmly entrenched.

After a Certifier’s initial audit, further audits are assigned based on one or more of a number of criteria. The audit outcome detailed in the previous audit’s outcome email is the most obvious, but we also look at volume of certificates produced, plus the size, value and complexity of the projects certified since the previous audit.  Every time a Certifier is audited at a Body, SER will take the opportunity to also audit the Body itself, regardless of its previous outcome.

Hard Copy or Electronic?

SER’s audit procedures can be accessed at:

https://www.ser-ltd.com/ser-scotland/resources/audit-procedures

It’s not the most exciting document, but it is useful, and we would recommend that you read it both when applying to join the Scheme, before you undertake any certification and again when you are selected for an audit.

Section 3.6 of the document states that Approved Bodies are required to:

'Ensure that all information including project records, warrant plans and files necessary to carry out the audit is readily available to the audit team. Records of building warrant plans and summaries of ground investigation and existing building condition assessment reports are required to be made available in hard copy.'

So SER’s default position is clear: we would prefer to see hard copies. In spite of this, we recognise that paperless offices are becoming more common, and we will always do our best to accommodate individual arrangements. However, auditees should be aware of two things if intending to use primarily electronic documents at the audit:

  1. Most of our auditors agree that audits are easier to conduct using hard copies – attempting to audit projects with two auditors and a Certifier sat by a single screen is not always practical. Auditors also feel that such audits tend to be less time-efficient, as it is more difficult to separate a project into, for example, calculations, reports and drawings.
  2. You (the Certification Coordinator) should let the auditor know in advance of the audit what records you intend to be in electronic format, and how you will ensure convenient access to these records throughout the day.

What will the auditors want to see?

To enable the auditors to conduct an efficient audit, the following records should be provided:

  • The Certification Plan. 
  • A copy of the signed certificate – to verify the date signed (this can often differ from the date the certificate was raised.) 
  • Any relevant drawing registers noted on the certificate. 
  • All relevant Engineer’s, Architect’s and third party drawings (usually the drawings noted in the drawing registers or on the list of information on the certificate.) A3 copies are normally suitable, but the text should be clearly legible. 
  • A full set of all relevant (checked/reviewed) calculations, including any third party information. 
  • Where appropriate, the site investigation report. 
  • Where appropriate, the existing building appraisal. 
  • Any Certification records, including copies of check drawings and calculations and any correspondence querying designs and other relevant reports, evidence of any dialogue with third party designers where the relevant elements are on Schedule 1.

An insider tip…

One of the most common sources of audit findings involves missing or incomplete records. Our auditors tell us that in almost every case, findings of this nature could easily be prevented. The auditors rarely believe that the missing information does not exist, but if it is not presented at audit then it will almost certainly lead to a significant number of findings, as auditors are only able to audit the information that is presented on the day. This seems like an opportune moment to mention the hard copy thing again; when hard copy records are printed in advance of the audit it minimises the risk of information being missing or inaccessible to the auditors.

Also be aware that printed calculations from various software packages show the date they were printed, not the date they were originated or checked. This can lead to findings if it cannot be shown that the calculations were checked prior to certification.

The day of the audit

Our auditors tell us that the vast majority of Certifiers prefer for the audit to be conducted ‘interview style’. This involves the auditee being present for most of the day, though please don’t be concerned or offended if at various points the auditors go off to discuss a matter privately. The ‘interview’ format allows the auditors to work with the auditee in order to review the certification procedures, design and warrant drawing information. 

Lunch

Auditors rarely choose to go out for lunch, preferring to take a short break for some light refreshments. Our auditors will rarely be aware of the local sandwich shops, so it is always very much appreciated if the auditee is able to assist with some light refreshments given that the day of the audit can be a long one for all concerned! Lunch is often a time when general matters, not necessarily connected with the audit, can be discussed.

Finally

We realise that being audited can be stressful (many of our auditors are also Certifiers and SER is periodically audited by BSD so we do have some first-hand experience). Our auditors will always try to minimise this stress by ensuring that as many of the audit’s variables (whether it will be conducted in a single day or multiple days, what time it is likely to finish etc.) are discussed prior to the day of the audit. The audit should be a useful exercise for all concerned. Remember, auditors are looking for evidence that you are undertaking certification to a suitable standard; they are not looking for evidence of poor performance.

We are always happy to help, so if you have any concerns about the audit process, particularly in the run-up to the arranged date, please contact SER Admin for assistance.

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