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Is capability all that matters?
By David Powley - DNV Certification

The capability of personnel is given much attention in the various management system specifications but there are other issues having an impact on the ability of personnel to perform their functions in such a way as to minimise risks to quality, environmental and safety & health (QUESH) management. David Powley of DNV Certification presents the issues from an Auditor’s perspective.

The management system specifications ISO 9001 (clause 6.2), ISO 14001 (clause 4.4.2) and OHSAS 18001 (clause 4.4.2) have clear stipulations to ensure that relevant personnel are capable in performing their functions. These stipulations include carrying out training needs assessments and then applying appropriate training and development, as necessary, depending on the particular risk whether it be to quality, environment or safety & health. Although not explicit, the specifications infer requirements to ensure personnel capability on entry into the organisation or when moving from one role to another. Third-party Auditors (TPA’s) of management systems for QESH certainly consider capability assurance during their audits and, for the most part, find that most organisations handle this activity well. Furthermore, TPA’s are witness to many investigations of undesired events or conditions (such as customer complaints, accidents, incidents, legal breaches etc) where it is concluded that there was a lack of capability on the part of personnel connected with these events. However, capability cannot be the only determinant to consider.

There are probably far more authoritative and detailed accounts on this subject but simplistically put – the likelihood of a person performing a task with minimal risk is determined by capability, reliability and availability. Capability can be otherwise termed competence and is determined by experience, qualifications, education, training, intelligence etc. Reliability (or dependability) is broad and is determined by many sub-factors, such as physical and mental well-being and health, fatigue, attitude, aptitude, personality, initiative etc. These are often termed ‘human factors’. Availability is simply an aggregation of the amount of time allowed to perform a function which in turn relates to amount of work to perform and the working methods.

The first determinant capability, as indicated above, is covered well by the management system specifications. The third determinant, availability, can be said to be covered by the specifications in the need to apply sufficient human resource but would an Auditor or the organisation being audited give due recognition to this? But nowhere in the specifications is there a hint that a management system should bother itself with reliability of personnel.

What does this mean for third-party Auditors (TPA) and the organisations that they audit?

Without looking at all of the statistics of non-conformances found at third party audits (were that ever possible) it would be unlikely that a significant number would direct the cause toward deficiencies in availability and reliability. For cases of lack of availability this is not excusable where it is deserved. Some organisations are deluding themselves into thinking that, without other investments or alterations, fewer people performing the tasks of a larger workforce would not create more risk. A TPA has a duty to highlight this. The need for human resource sufficiency is after all in the specifications. However it is excusable for a TPA to withhold issuance of non-conformities where reliability is deficient – it is difficult to assess and it is not covered in any of the specifications. The best a TPA can do is produce an observation in the report and only then when ‘on solid ground’.

In the case of an organisation being audited (by a TPA) for its ability to investigate undesired events and conditions, there should not be limitation on the number of likely causative factors to be considered. If this were the case it can result in ineffective ‘cop-out’ corrective action along the lines of applying more training when either no lack of training or competence existed or even when the lack of competence had no causative effect on the event. It is as though a state of denial exists when other factors such as availability and reliability are not considered. Now, when a TPA encounters such instances it is appropriate to declare a non-conformance, when deserved, on the basis that all factors are not being considered in the investigation.

It is possible that the most competent people can sometimes perform the most outrageously sub-standard acts due to their lack of reliability or the fact that they had insufficient time. The factors reliability and availability must sit alongside of capability in importance in risk management. There may be others but their importance could not diminish this trinity. It is important for Auditors and Operators of management systems to give appropriate recognition to them.



David Powley is a well recognised and highly experienced integrated management systems Auditor and Trainer with DNV Certification. He is the author of numerous articles on management systems for quality, environment and health and safety. DNV Certification is one of the world’s leading certification bodies/registrars offering the latest in management systems certification services. With more than 49,000 certificates issued worldwide, our name evokes a strong commitment to safety, quality, and concern for the environment. DNV recently launched Risk Based Certification™, a fresh approach to auditing. For further information on Risk Based Certification or any other service DNV offer please visit www.dnv.co.uk/certification or call 020 7716 6543.






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