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How to make an ISO 14001 internal audit checklist

Planning for your first ISO 14001 internal audit on your EMS (Environmental Management System) can be a daunting challenge, with the requirements of the standard and your own knowledge of your internal processes probably requiring checking, too. Add the large number of employees and departments involved and the fact that an accurate report of the audit will be needed, and it can be tricky to know where to start. Unfortunately, the ISO 14001 standard doesn’t provide a checklist for this function, but the good news is that you can make one yourself.

Internal audit – Step by step

Firstly, it is impossible to have an effective checklist without aligning it to the requirements of the standard; therefore, you will need to consider the requirements of the standard, including the following:

  • Review of “documented information”: In the article A new approach to documented information in ISO 14001:2015 we examined the requirements for documented information that are required to satisfy the standard. It is wise to make this review the first part of your audit checklist.
  • Making your checklist: At the same time that you work through the 14001 standard to check on your document requirements, check the specific requirements that arise from that documentation. For example, if you have committed to reviewing your environmental aspects every six months, then part of your audit should be to ensure that this is being done, and the same applies to the other commitments you have made in your documented information.
  • Audit planning: It is wise to plan your internal audit, as you will need to visit many people and departments, so structure your checklist to try and give yourself the appropriate amount of time in each department.
  • Audit execution: This is the physical act of performing the audit, where the auditor moves amongst the employees and processes and checks the critical elements of the standards to determine whether your defined processes are being correctly adhered to. In most organizations of any size, you will surely omit critical parts if you do not have a checklist, and you should also plan for the fact that you need to record outcomes and take notes for the report.
  • Audit reporting: You will need to write and retain a report with your audit findings, and your audit checklist and notes taken will help you to do this. This will form the basis for identifying non-conformances and suggesting corrective actions to resolve them accordingly.
  • Follow-up and closure of any non-conformities: Normally, it is sensible for the auditor himself to do the follow-up, where he/she will check that any corrective actions raised have been carried through and identified non-conformities eliminated. The checklist and notes are again vital in this part of the process.

Adding value to your checklist and building your knowledge

So, we can see that aligning the requirements you have committed to in your own policies and documented information is vital, as well as meeting the elements laid out in the ISO 14001 standard itself. Regarding the requirements of the standard itself, there is a lot of information to process, especially for those less experienced in the application of ISO standards. It can therefore be extremely advantageous to undergo some training to assist with this, such as this online ISO 14001 internal auditor training course. Also, it is important for the employees you interact with to understand that this is not an interview situation, and the questions in the checklist are designed to gain an overall picture of the employee’s interaction with the process.

What to include in your checklist

Your audit checklist should certainly contain the following columns, although obviously you can add to this to suit the needs of your own organization:

  • Reference: Either the ISO 14001 clause applicable to the part of the audit undertaken, or perhaps your internal document number or reference.
  • Item or subject: Here you will outline what you want to look for or audit against.
  • Compliance result: Here you will record whether the result you find meets the audit terms or not.
  • Notes / findings: Here your notes should be recorded – whom you spoke to, what happened, anything of note that will help identify non-conformity and help provide a pointer for the resulting corrective action.

Making it happen

As you can see, performing the internal audit may not be so daunting if you know your own organization, study the ISO 14001 standard, and use your newly created checklist to ensure all that you plan is checked and marked off. The internal audit is a critical element in preparing your EMS for your certification audit, so make your own checklist and ensure that nothing important is omitted.

Why not try our free  ISO 14001:2015 Internal Auditor Course to improve your knowledge of the ISO 14001 internal audit?

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.