Articles

Didn’t Expect That

(13/05/2024)

Your laboratory may have robust and comprehensive operating procedures but inevitably, at some point, things will go wrong and nonconformance will occur.  Section 7.10 of ISO 17025 details the requirements of controlling nonconforming work.

One of the most important aspects of this process is conducting root cause analysis (RCA) – a thorough assessment of the issue to determine how and why something happened.  This must be a comprehensive investigation of all the circumstances and not just a cursory summary such as ‘it was human error’.  Digging down into the detail is vital and a good rule of thumb is to aim for ‘5 Whys’, i.e. continue to ask why until the root cause has been identified.

Using the above image as an example (until recently, this was a bridge on our local footpath over the River Trent), what might we establish from our RCA?  (This is not an exhaustive list).

Q. Why has the bridge collapsed?

A. A large tree has fallen down and crashed into the bridge.

Q. Why did the tree fall down?

A. A strong wind blew the tree over.

Q. Strong winds are common, why has the tree fallen this time?

A. Riverbank erosion has exposed and weakened the tree roots in recent months.

Q. What has caused this erosion?

A. Intense conveyance work on the river upstream combined with unprecedented levels of rainfall has significantly increased water flow.

Q. Are there any other contributory factors?

A. The erosion has also weakened the bridge footings which were set into the side of the riverbank.

Whilst we must all strive to produce the highest standard of work we can, organisations should recognise that nonconformance will happen.  Using methodology such as the 5 Whys model, facilitates a thorough RCA which in turn, helps to identify corrective and preventive actions, enabling you to treat them as an opportunity to improve processes, whilst reducing the risk of the same issue reoccurring.

(Image courtesy of Drone Falcon Photography)

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Green Flag Your Business

(21/04/2024)

The Green Flag Award® scheme [https://www.greenflagaward.org/] recognises and rewards well managed parks and green spaces, setting the benchmark standard for the management of recreational outdoor spaces across the United Kingdom and around the world.  It is wonderful to spot these flags in increasing numbers, especially in our local areas, and they are a clear indication of successful environmental management systems in practice, but what ‘Green Flags’ your business?

ISO 14001 certification empowers organisations to implement environmental management systems and offers a host of benefits.  Certification necessitates the review of all business operations for environmental impacts.  Once identified, these impacts are measured in terms of your organisation’s carbon footprint, providing initial values for your carbon reduction plan.  ISO 14001 enables organisations to identify carbon reduction initiatives and by doing so, can create significant financial and resource efficiencies.  ISO 14001 demonstrates that your business is committed to working in a sustainable manner, thereby contributing to environmental awareness and protection.

ISO 14001 certification should be regarded as a strategically important element of any business.  As our planet creeps towards an irreversible environmental tipping point, every contribution will make a difference.  ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little’ [Edmund Burke, 1729-1797].

Everyone who knows me, will be in no doubt that ISO 14001 is my favourite standard and the words of Edmund Burke are never far from my mind.  I am convinced that we can all play a part in improving our environment through both our personal and professional activities.

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100 Followers (and growing)

(07/04/2024)

A huge thank you to our first 100 followers!

Having created the Compass QMS LinkedIn profile in December, we are delighted to have reached and exceeded this total over the weekend.  A sincere thank you for following our page, we hope that you find our articles both interesting and useful.

Compass QMS may be a relatively new organisation but behind the scenes, we have almost 80 years of experience that we want to share in order to benefit others.  We are already planning our next articles and welcome suggestions for future ones.  If you have any ideas, requests or questions, please contact us and we will do our very best to assist.

We appreciate any likes and reposts of our articles to spread the information out into the wider world.

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Spring is in the Air

(31/03/2024)

This Bank Holiday weekend has finally provided a hint of the impending Spring weather with signs of new growth all around us.  In a few days’ time, for many organisations, it will also be the start of a new financial year and what better time to conduct your ‘commercial spring clean’ and complete management review.

Two elements of your robust management review process include firstly, a detailed appraisal of the management system and a thorough evaluation of the previous year’s operations, and secondly, the planning and forecasting for continual improvement over the next twelve months.

The appraisal process should cover every aspect of the management system from business objectives to internal auditing and everything in-between, acknowledging productive and efficient performance and, importantly, identifying any negative aspects or emerging trends that could have detrimental impacts on business operations, to also include appropriate remediating actions.

Future planning identifies investment requirements, budget agreement, additional resources and potential expansion of standards, such as extensions to scope or achievement of additional certificates.  Schedules of accreditation must evolve to accommodate current and developing methodologies; the dynamic nature of many industries necessitates the review of service delivery to constantly meet end-user requirements.

Management review is the ideal vehicle for the effective exchange of company communications. Information must flow throughout the organisation, providing the opportunity for open dialogue regarding both successes and failures, celebrating achievements and addressing identified issues.

(Flowers courtesy of Kirsty Faulkner)

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Take Time to Reflect

(11/03/2024)

In your demanding schedule, sometimes it is good to pause, take time to reflect and give serious thought to your achievements.  Appreciate the positive impacts that your robust quality management system brings to the organisation and recognise your contribution to operational and commercial success.

Successful quality management is a time-consuming and challenging occupation, often focused on the goals of continual improvement and forward momentum.  Compliance requirements constantly change and develop; the statutory FSR Code of Practice issued just six months ago has already undergone consultation for version 2, and the Quality Manager must ensure that their management system adapts to meet emerging requirements.  The forensic industry itself can be a fast-paced environment, particularly for certain disciplines such as digital forensics with the necessity to maintain constantly developing tools and techniques, and again, the Quality Manager must monitor the fulfilment of technical obligations.

It is understandable that there will be times when you feel that you are taking two steps forward and one step back, however a moment of self-reflection is highly recommended to recognise the progress you have made and the goals that you have achieved.  The scrutiny of a non-conformance and subsequent root cause analysis often leads to identifying effective improvements to technical processes.  Identification of an emerging risk, and implementation of appropriate control measures can result in increased resilience across multiple activities.  Whilst the immediate focus may be on the issue at hand, positive outcomes should not be overlooked.  Taking a moment to evaluate and appreciate your accomplishments will increase your motivation and drive continual improvement.

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Maintenance – a vital aspect of Quality Management

(19/02/2024)

The initial attainment of accreditation to international standards is, quite rightly, a notable achievement and something to be very proud of.  It takes an incredible amount of focus, hard work and commitment to ‘get over the line’ and any organisation that receives their grant of accreditation has clearly demonstrated their competence and should be congratulated.

What is equally important is to recognise and understand that the grant of accreditation signifies that you are at the start of your quality journey, one that in essence has no end point, and requires you to keep moving forwards ensuring that not only do you retain your accreditation but that you also develop and demonstrate continual improvement.

Continual improvement is the very essence of quality management.  The world does not stand still, what was suitable last year may no longer be fit for purpose.  Organisations must grow and develop to keep up with their commercial and client requirements and of course, the advancement of technology is unbelievably rapid.  All of these factors pose challenges to your quality management operations, challenges that must be addressed if your accreditation is to be maintained.  Extensions to Scope will be required to keep pace with emerging trends and assure the efficacy of your quality management system.

We understand that this may be a daunting concept, especially for those organisations who are new to the world of quality management, accreditations and certifications.  Our experience has shown that over time, when the maintenance and continual improvement of your QMS becomes business as usual,  you will realise the benefits of a robust QMS.  Benefits that include improved working practices, a higher level of customer satisfaction and operational efficiencies.

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Man’s best friend is his dog….

(29/01/2024)

The old adage says, ‘Man’s best friend is his dog’, but who is the Quality Manager’s best friend?  We would like to suggest that the QM’s best friend could be the organisation’s IT Manager!

The importance of robust information security procedures aligned with the quality management requirements cannot be underestimated.  A number of accreditations and certifications within your forensic units require the evidencing of effective information security processes and these are subject to focused scrutiny during assessment visits and external audits.

In addition to recognised infosec-based principles, e.g. ISO 27001 and Cyber Essentials, standards such as ISO 17025 and the FSR Code of Practice have significant compliance requirements for controlling data and information security.  The level of interrogation into systems and controls requires specialist knowledge to be able to evidence such things as server and network hardening processes, monitoring and responding to vulnerabilities, patching and access controls etc.

Our own experience has repeatedly shown the immense value of having IT Support who not only understand the importance of forensic regulatory requirements but who are also prepared to engage with the assessors.  There is nothing more reassuring to the Quality Manager than when they are fully supported by the technical expertise of their IT Team during an assessment visit.

We believe that to achieve success and meet the stringent requirements of many accreditations and certifications, it is essential for the QM to develop strong and close working relationships with key individuals throughout their organisation and IT Support should be at the top of their list.

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A Quality Manager’s role can sometimes be a lonely place

(22/01/2024)

In many organisations, the position of Quality Manager is held by one individual who is key to the successful creation, maintenance and improvement of the quality management system.  A lonely place at times when issues arise or processes need improving.  As the saying goes, “a problem shared is a problem halved” but who do you have to talk quality with?  Larger organisations may operate a quality team, led by the QM, and instantly you can benefit from having support, a group with a shared understanding of continual improvement, and an environment to discuss ideas and exchange knowledge and experience.

For any Quality Manager, on their own or with their team, having a safe environment to talk openly about concerns, triumphs or their most recent experiences with external assessors is so valuable but sadly, sometimes lacking.

This week, we were delighted to hear that one of our current  ISO 17025 clients was approached by the quality team from a different part of their organisation, reaching out for advice and the opportunity to discuss quality.  This made us smile!  It may well be very early steps to building their support network but just imagine the possibilities, the sharing of best-practice, consistency in methods and help with validation!

We fully appreciate that QM’s don’t always have the luxury of support from other quality teams but this is where Compass QMS can add value by providing industry leading experts to advise and assist.  Whether it is to explain a complex requirement, offer improvement suggestions or simply to provide reassurance that you are on the right lines and doing a great job, we are here for you.