The unprecedented impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has fast-tracked technologies and methodologies across all sectors, especially those pertaining to mining health and safety regulations and compliance, accredited certifications provider JC Auditors compliance specialist Oliver Naidoo tells Mining Weekly.
“In a relatively short space of time, remote audits – also known as e-audits – have really gained traction and are now a normal and relatively seamless process.”
He explains that an e-audit only differs from a regular audit in that it uses electronic means to remotely obtain audit evidence, with the auditor evaluating the evidence objectively to determine the extent of conformity to the audit criteria.
Notably, the most recent version of International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) guidelines for auditing management systems, ISO 19011:2018, includes new specifications for conducting remote audits to allow for a transitioning to e-auditing.
Naidoo points out that, although remote audit techniques are similar to those used in person, they also allow for file sharing on electronic platforms such as email, Google Drive and Dropbox.
One of the only critical technology demands for remote audits is a strong Internet connection with sufficient bandwidth, especially for virtual meetings with video, he adds.
“In fact, the lack of a stable Internet connection is one of the main challenges of the remote audit process,” Naidoo declares.
The capacity for sufficient cloud storage further allows for an efficient audit process, which means that the upload speed for the client and the download speed for the auditor are crucial in terms of overall efficiency.
“At the outset of the Covid-19 lockdown, JC Auditors embarked on a concerted training initiative with clients using infographics to outline the remote audit process.”
The company also held virtual meetings with clients to explain the remote audit process and detailed which documents and records had to be uploaded prior to the audit.
“We also evaluated our own staff and auditor information and communications technology competency and addressed any gaps in skills relating to use of technology,” says Naidoo.
JC Auditors recently concluded a successful Road Transport Management System (RTMS) audit at diversified miner Exxaro’s Grootegeluk mine, in Lephalale, Limpopo.
“All the relevant operational processes were assessed for compliance, including loading and offloading process controls, payload management, vehicle inspections, cycle times, contractor management, safety/risk management, driver wellness management and RTMS-related training,” says Naidoo.
This audit validates Exxaro’s taking responsibility for not only managing the safety aspects on site but also actively taking ownership of road transport to mitigate any negative impacts on South African roads.
“This is indeed forward thinking from the mining giant, especially in light of South Africa’s extremely poor road-safety statistics. Exxaro is, thus, the sole RTMS-certified consignor in South Africa, certainly giving credence to its motto of ‘powering possibility’.”
A clean audit represents a significant achievement and infers that the mining stakeholder has established robust mechanisms that contribute meaningfully to the pursuit of zero harm.
“Obviously, the more complex the organisation in terms of processes, sites, risks and equipment, the longer the duration of the audit. Typically, the audit will focus on the high-risk areas with the highest safety impacts.”
Meanwhile, e-auditing does present some challenges in comparison to conducting physical auditing on-site, such as an inability to conduct detailed equipment inspections or live sample verification, although the use of real-time video inspections is mitigating this risk to some extent.
Remote audits also do not allow for a site walk through, which is often essential to identify areas of concern.
When preparing for a remote audit, it is often advisable that the auditors establish if the company being audited has an up-to-date workplace health and safety policy with an incident register that is being used correctly, and if there is a process through which appointed health and safety representatives communicate health and safety issues to employees in each location.
After such requirements have been met using a fully comprehensive checklist, the process of auditing health and safety compliance can begin.
Naidoo points out that JC Auditors was quite fortunate in that the remote audit process had been introduced as a pilot project prior to the pandemic, with many clients having expressed their approval.
“We have received numerous commendations on our remote audit process,” he enthuses.
The company is encouraged by this success, with some clients wanting to continue with the remote auditing process after the risks associated with the pandemic have ended.
“It has certainly become an integral part of our audit strategy as we continually look at innovatively adding value for clients,” he concludes.