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Aug 3, 2011

The Auditor’s Ethical Responsibility

The auditor should express an opinion on a subject only when it is based on adequate knowledge and honest conviction. In all cases, the facts should speak for themselves. Opinions, when given, should be solidly grounded in objective evidence.

The following is ASQ’s Nuclear Quality Systems Auditor.

The leader of an audit team serves as a supervisor and should always be willing to recognize good work and offer constructive criticism for improvement in performance. The lead auditor must demonstrate through actions how the audit team should act. A leader must demonstrate leadership and set good examples. The team leader should require the team to comply fully with the rules, regulations and customs of the organization under audit. This entails compliance with the working hours, dress, lunch hours and other requirements. Team members should attempt to blend into the environment in which they are auditing. Any action which makes the team stand out will reduce its effectiveness in dealing with the audited organization.

In dealing with any problem between the team and the audited organization, the team leader must demonstrate fairness to both parties. The leader must deal with objectivity in obtaining the facts and settle any personality conflicts. If there is significant doubt remaining as to verification of the facts or the correctness of the finding, and additional evaluation fails to eliminate the doubt, the item should be dropped or offered in terms which acknowledge the degree of uncertainty at the post-audit (exit) conference. This type of action demonstrates the objectivity and fairness of the audit.

Should personality conflicts occur between members of the audit team, the team leader has the responsibility to step in immediately and resolve the conflict. The resolution should take place in private and be resolved to the benefit of the entire audit team and organization being audited.

It should be the clearly defined policy of any audit team that there be no surprises involved with the audit at any time. An audit is no place for ‘cloak and dagger tactics,’ ‘witch hunting,’ or the identification of situations which are sprung at a critical time. Ethical audits require full disclosure of any finding (or observation) with responsible members of the audited organization to test its validity prior to formal exposure at the post-audit (exit) conference or formal audit report.

The team leader must assure that he (or she) and the team members maintain their integrity. They should not accept gifts or entertainment of a nature or degree that might possibly prejudice the audit or affect the relationship between the two organizations (auditee and audit team). If members of the audited organization offer to take the audit team to lunch, it is the team leader’s responsibility to clarify the rules by which the lunch is accepted, such as limiting the time away from the audited facility.

During the conduct of the audit, auditors often have access to proprietary information of the audited organization. Auditors have a moral obligation not to divulge this information to anyone. Divulging proprietary information is a violation of this moral obligation and is not in the best business or professional interest of either organization (auditee or audit team). The disclosure betrays a trust and, in so doing, gains a reputation that is not conducive to building better business relations for the auditor’s company or for himself (or herself).

Auditors must avoid the temptation, during external (second party) audits, to discuss another audited organization’s performance with the people they are presently auditing. To do so is akin to disclosing proprietary information and is in bad taste. Exceptions to this may be taken during internal (first party) audits if part of the audit objective is to assess the efficiency of a quality system which is applicable to more than one facility. (For example, two or more manufacturing plants owned by the same parent company.)

Auditors must avoid making false, unsupported or misleading statements that tend to injure or discredit the audited organization’s reputation. This requirement is self-evident and must be adhered to in every respect.

In summary, all auditors must act in an ethical manner which will bring credit upon themselves, their company and the quality auditing profession.