Management systems mergers

ISO 14001 has been in use since September 1996, but the latest buzz is about integrated management systems that combine environmental management and quality management systems. The benefits of integrated systems include synergy of operations and reinforcement of a consistent management philosophy.

The more integrated your management systems are, the more integrated audits will become part of the natural maturing of the overall business system. If your current business structure uses multiple independent management systems - such as quality, safety, environmental and financial systems - integrated audits can assist in identifying conflicting processes, as well as sharing best practices within the company.

A history of two separate systems
Many environmental managers have been exempt from participation in their companies' ISO 9000 implementation efforts. During QS-9000 Quality System implementation, however, these environmental managers may have had some involvement. In practice, the involvement of environmental management has been limited in most companies, even in formally defined quality management systems.

Traditionally, environmental managers have spent much of their time "fighting fires" and trying to maintain compliance with environmental regulations that are increasing both in number and complexity. Proactive management of environmental issues has been a luxury beyond their reach. The result in many organizations has been two - or more, if safety and health are also managed separately - separate management systems, run by two different groups of individuals. As ISO 14001 implementation ensues, these companies must decide whether or not to integrate these two management systems. If integration is their goal, the level of integration they wish to achieve is their next challenge. Table 1 summarizes advantages and potential disadvantages of management systems integration.

Table 1

Management systems integration

Advantages

Integration brings the company closer to having one management system that serves its overall business needs. It reduces redundancies and conflicting elements commonly found when two or more separate systems are used.

Disadvantages

If one or more management systems carry third party registration, a nonconformance in one system may carry into the other system. This risk may be very small. In the extreme case of a major nonconformance, both registrations may be at risk, unless effective correction action is taken.

Environmental staff can benefit from existing core systems, such as document control, calibration, definition of responsibilities and record management. They do not have to design the system.

The maintenance of additional procedures, training, document changes and calibrations may overload support staff. Additional support resources may be appropriate.

The fresh perspective of new groups in the system may identify ways to streamline the procedures and become more effective.

These fresh perspectives may be unwelcome, creating conflict between new groups and system veterans.

For those jobs having a potentially significant environmental impact, quality procedures and work instructions can be amended to include key environmental process requirements. This allows employees to understand both requirements within one set of procedures.

It can be difficult to maintain full implementation of the quality system requirements alone. Additional elements in procedure and work instruction may encumber employees.

In conclusion, each company must decide upon the level of integration that best suits its business needs.

Audit options
The time needed for an effective audit can be affected by the level of integration within the company. Auditors will have to understand this integration format in order to create an effective audit plan, or agenda. Regardless of the level of integration, an integrated audit can be performed within the management systems.

A key factor for integrated-audit practicality is the auditors' qualifications. Do they understand quality management systems, environmental management systems and environmental issues applicable to the company? Or is their understanding limited to only quality or environmental issues? Table 2 summarizes several options and types of integrated audits. The major savings to the company are reductions in employees' time being audited.

Table 2

Integrated audit options

Type of integrated audit

Auditor qualifications

General considerations

Opening & closing meetings

Sequence of department interviews

Potential cost savings

Fully integrated audit

Requires competency in both quality and environmental areas

Same auditors are on site for longer periods of time

Conducted separately or jointly

Each department visited once

Only one set of travel costs incurred if audit can be done within one trip

Simultaneous audit

Need competency in only one standard - although any knowledge of the other standard would be valuable

Two sets of auditors on site at the same time allows them to sort out differences in interpretation

Could be done together or separately

Each department visited twice

No savings in auditor costs, but reduces the time "occupied" for the audits

Overlapping audit

Need competency in only one standard - knowledge of the other standard needed if doing both audits

One or more auditors on both teams - better if the team leader was the same for both audits

Done separately

Core departments visited once

Time spent in the core departments is the only savings through reduced disruption

Sequential audit

Need competency in only one standard - knowledge of the other standard needed if doing both audits

Could be different auditors

Done separately

Each department visited twice

No savings in auditor cost unless the same person performs both audits, reducing travel costs.

Within Table 2, the potential cost savings column includes travel expenses as a consideration. This topic is relevant for third party registration audits and internal audits where auditors' travel to other facilities is required.

Conclusions
The needs of the company and business objectives dictate the level of management systems integration. In general, the more each supporting system - like quality, environmental, financial, safety and health - is aligned to business needs, the easier it is to integrate supporting management systems. The qualifications of the auditors determine the amount of flexibility in performing the integrated audits. The company can select from the various types of integrated audits to minimize disruption within the departments being audited and maximize the benefit to their operations.

What you can do
A solid management system supports business process improvement and meets the ISO standards. You can achieve this by having integrated gap assessments carried out, collecting feedback on streamlining current operations and focusing your integration efforts. But most importantly, even while your company is in the process of implementation and procedural change, it must maintain day-to-day operations. That is why your core objective should be to keep the focus on your business needs and preserve forward momentum.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1999 issue of Environmental Protection.

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