written by Maree Stuart
Being a NATA-accredited lab can feel like you’re Bear Grylls, with a depleted level of resources but being pushed to achieve ever more thrilling feats to entertain the audience of NATA assessors. It’s hard to survive a NATA assessment. We get it- we’ve felt like that too!
Being prepared not only will reduce your stress levels, but it also shows your assessment team that your organisation is professional and well-organised.
There is a lot to cover when it comes to NATA accreditation. Our 5 proven tips for accreditation mastery gives a quick outline of the things to have on hand for an assessment.
But we know that there are many things you can do well before you get that letter to alert you that your lab is due for reassessment or a surveillance visit.
While we’re not suggesting that you resort to eating insects or wrestling alligators, the best advice is that you take the time to get to grips with the things you can do to be well-prepared for the next NATA visit. So, here are our tips for stress-free survival of your next NATA assessment. Deep cleansing breaths are optional.
The “health check”
The first thing to do is check that you have all the fundamentals of the right, competent people, appropriate and calibrated equipment, methods, and quality control in place and there are no worrying signs of trouble. You can do this “health check” of your lab at any time. Make sure you check against both the requirements in the Standard and any NATA interpretive documents.
You might consider incorporating this health check into your internal audit system as a formal audit. It’s completely OK that it’s not on the original audit schedule! The point of the schedule is that it is a plan, and plans can change. Update your audit schedule to include the completion of this check and consider if this should be a regular feature of your audit system. And, of course, follow the internal audit system when it comes to the records and follow-up.
If one or more of these elements is not in tip-top condition, there is no need to panic. As any person left in the wild will tell you, it’s good to have a compass to find your way. So, set a plan to deal with the issues and make sure you let managers and staff know about the findings and the plan. The plan should include details of what to do, when it will be done, and who is responsible for doing it.
Fixing the holes and developing a plan to do this is just another example of dealing with non-conformances. You can use that system to navigate your way through.
Non-conformances and corrective actions
Before you go too far, investigate whether any of the holes have already been the subject of a non-conformance or corrective action. You might discover that the same problem came up in the past and this is just another manifestation of that same issue. We know this happens A LOT!
We’d suggest digging out the records and reviewing the thoroughness of the investigation and root cause analysis for the relevant non-conformances. Take a look at our article on root cause analysis if you need to revisit what should be done. You might also find that the non-conformance/ corrective action was closed out too soon before any verification of the effectiveness of the solution could be established.
While you’re digging into your non-conformance and corrective action system, review any nonconformities since your last assessment. Have there been any trends? Did you follow your system for managing these? If not, is there a reason for this? Be brave and honest when answering these questions- it will help you in the long run.
Of course, no matter how you’re documenting these, make sure you’re doing it in line with your quality manual or procedure. This brings us to the bonus tip, always do what you say you’ll do with all of your systems, whether it’s how you train and record that training and competence of your people, through to how control your documents. If you can’t do what the system says, maybe it’s time to revise the system.
Remember, too, that non-conformances can arise from issues with both the technical and systems aspects of your lab. If you’ve found a problem with the competence of the people in your lab, say, then the process of investigation and root cause analysis will work just as well as if you found an issue with document control.
Taking Risk out of the equation
Here’s the secret: all the things we’ve discussed above are features of risk management. Once you understand this, it will help you survive the NATA assessment when the “R” word is being bandied about.
Our 5 secrets to successful risk management reveal how to make this part of your system sing. But the other thing to realise is that not all risks can, or should, be eliminated.
Risks to impartiality is one area where it’s difficult to eliminate risks. In fact. there’s no requirement to have impartiality as a risk-free zone. Don’t fret if you identify a relationship that potentially affects the lab’s independence and objectivity!
For all risks, what you need to do is make sure you have a system in place for managing risk. Show how you identify and record risks, as well as how you have responded to these risks. The risks don’t have to go into one central risk register.
You might think about recording risks in procedures and methods. For instance, quality control is a form of risk management, and we identify and document the response to the risks associated with inaccurate or unreliable results in a method or procedure.
Optimising your prospects of survival during the assessment
The main reason to do the things we’ve covered above in advance is so you can focus on the assessment and answer questions clearly and confidently.
You should also consider what format the assessment will take. The preparation needed will depend on whether the assessment will be onsite or online and whether it’s a fee-for-service assessment.
If your assessment is being carried out remotely, we’ve previously shared our five top tips for remote assessments. However, if this is an onsite assessment, all the information requested by the auditors should be in the room you’ve prepared for the team.
If the assessment is charged by the hour, having information readily available will save you time and money. Plus having to scrabble through documents or search through folders will make you feel flustered and stressed.
In Part 2 of the NATA Survival Guide, we’ll discuss a few more things to do to make you feel less like Bear Grylls and more like the Dalai Lama.
All of this may sound like a lot of work!
This preparation will make a world of difference not only to the success of your assessment but also to your mindset. A perfect outcome isn’t guaranteed, but you’ll feel more confident if you’re well-prepared.
If it all sounds too hard… we can help!
Our range of training courses will support you and your staff to ensure that things like your understanding of the requirements, measurement uncertainty, traceability, internal audit, and root cause analysis skills are up to scratch.
We can carry out a health check or audit of your system so that your assessment team will see the very best version of your system.
Plus, we can be there on assessment day to support your team and, if necessary, to advocate on your behalf.
Contact Maree on 0411 540 709, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a confidential discussion.
Remember you don’t have to do this alone!
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