Fortune 500 Manufacturer Tailors Audits to Fit Each Site and Achieve Enterprise-wide Consistency

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Courtesy of Dakota Software

Company 'raises the bar' with system that enables auditors to focus on individual site requirements in quest for continual improvement.

Background in Brief

You’ll find many of the company’s products on just about every airplane in production*. And you’ll find a dauntingly wide range of environmental, health and safety audit requirements across the company’s roughly 100 facilities worldwide, which range from large manufacturing plants to warehouse/distribution centers to local service facilities. The establishment, striving for continual improvement in all facets of its business, meets these complex EHS compliance challenges with a top-to-bottom commitment 'to achieving excellence in environmental, health and safety performance.'

Challenge: How to improve audit accountability and consistency when you’re getting bogged down in paper

Just a few years ago, the company, like many other companies, was still conducting paper-based EHS audits. Auditors worked from binders inches thick with printed protocols, updates, forms, regulatory details, audit histories and notes. Staying abreast of thousands of regulations and changes was a formidable task. Simply deciphering and keeping track of numerous handwritten entries, notes and photocopies made consistency from facility to facility and from audit to audit difficult to achieve. In addition, the stacks of paper meant that there was no practical way to tailor an audit to the needs of a specific site.

The system was unwieldy, slow and inconsistent. And it placed undue dependence on the individual auditor’s knowledge of regulatory changes, site-specific subjects and other variables. Maintaining audit accountability – a key to compliance – was less than systematic.

From an enterprise view, it was difficult to see which facilities might need assistance and why. For a business as widespread and complex as the company’s, having a consistent yet adaptable audit system became a necessity.

Needed: An EHS audit solution that fulfills all the requirements of serving a diverse enterprise

'There must be a better way.'

One of the company’s experienced EHS Team Leaders recalls that re-assessment was spurred by 'feedback from the auditors on what it was taking to get through an audit. People were starting to suggest, hey, there’s got to be a better way to improve this. We’re all about how we can do continual improvement, and this audit team needs to take some steps forward in that.'

Feedback from the Field

'Thanks. I appreciate all the work that was put into the audit this week. I don’t think a facility can get a more thorough evaluation of their processes, legal compliance levels and overall EH&S assessment without the aid of this type of a tool.'

From one of the firm’s EHS professionals following a recent audit of his site using Dakota Auditor.

Within the enterprise, audits are seen as a service to the individual facilities, which the audit team refers to as their customers. 'We come as a service organization to our facilities,' says the company’s Manager of Compliance Assurance. 'We’re there to assist them with their compliance status as well as management systems.'

With the backing of corporate management, the company implemented a computer-based, comprehensive audit system that could be applied consistently, efficiently and flexibly throughout the enterprise. They selected Dakota Auditor to play a pivotal role. Auditor is expert-system software that combines comprehensive sets of up-to-date protocols with easy-to-use audit management tools. The software enables auditors to focus their time and efforts on interacting with facility personnel to enhance their understanding of the site’s operations while providing management with greater visibility to EHS issues.

Digging deeper for more detailed findings

Using Auditor’s regulatory profile, an audit team can now determine exactly which protocols apply to a specific facility without searching through masses of paper – and without leaving anything out. They can prepare a customized audit profile of relevant protocols for each facility, including additional questions of their own. 'I can tailor it to the needs of the facility,' says an EHS Team Leader, 'to what they actually do there…to what things we’ve seen in the past. We can dig a little deeper to understand what their needs are … the outcome has been better, more detailed findings.'

Taking ambiguity out of the audit

Auditor gives users the power to see issues in context – with point-and-click access to the latest applicable regulations, as well as related subject information such as Good Management Practices (GMPs), notations and history of prior audits. Red flags can be saved and transferred to later audits, a great help in revealing patterns and progress. Even if the auditor changes, the knowledge isn’t lost.

Unlike paper-based audit reports, where each auditor decided how findings were worded, Auditor improves communication by copying the actual findings, including supporting regulatory data, to the report. According to one of the company’s EHS Team Leaders, 'It gives us similarity from site to site, so we look at it as a corporation, and really see which sites need more assistance.'

'Raising the bar'

'We see that we’re raising the bar,' says the company’s Manager of Compliance Assurance. 'On the audits I’ve been on this year, that’s the message that’s coming back: 'you guys are raising the bar.' At one site that had been audited at least twice before, Auditor helped the team uncover 79 additional findings. Although there were good reasons for some, such as recent changes to the regulations and manufacturing process, the site leader was surprised. On the last day of the team’s visit, the manager recounts, 'we took the tool [Auditor] and worked with them, dealing with some of their issues. It was not just about not complying; it was about understanding the regulation or the situation.'

Driving for closure

'Time is money,' says the same manager. 'Efficiency is using a tool where you can find the issues, focus on the issues and come up with a corrective action plan, and then distribute the assignments to correct those issues …whatever their root cause, and then bringing closure and continual improvement.

From our standpoint, we can manage our liabilities, if there are any. We’re giving our teams one of the best tools on the market as a support. That’s what this company needs.'

Future Vision

According to the Director of Environmental Health and Safety, 'We would like to provide tools to our sites to enable a move from reacting to audit findings to proactively maintaining compliance on a daily basis. We believe that this will not only allow us to improve our compliance performance but also allow us to more effectively manage our compliance costs.'

About Dakota Software. Since 1988 Dakota Software has been providing solutions for environmental, health and safety compliance. Dakota Software provides auditing, corrective action and incident management software to help its customer achieve their compliance goals.

Dakota Software offers a three-pronged approach to compliance: audit-based, event-based and activity-based. This proactive approach ensures that enterprises are in compliance with the applicable regulations and that all critical processes are in control. As a result, executives can have confidence in the comprehensiveness of their compliance program.

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