Inspections

Inspections: Who Needs Them?

"The inspector is here!"

 

Such words generate a range of feelings among workers and management. Such emotions include anxiety, anger, excitement, and antipathy. Though negative feelings such as apprehension are understandable, they are mostly unwarranted and should not be a factor when you decide to partner with TRA.

 

Frequently people feel anxiety or fear when the inspector shows up because they are afraid that he or she will interfere with their work, find something wrong with their work, or cause them some other unforeseen difficulty which might range from a reprimand to a loss of one's job. Other folks simply don't like someone else looking over their shoulder and evaluating their work. A few others will be excited at the opportunity to display their skill and even fewer simply don’t care what anyone else thinks! Management will frequently be concerned that the inspector will simply waste time which they feel could be put to better use elsewhere. Why would anyone ever allow such a thing to happen?

 

There are several good reasons why a manufacturing facility is visited by inspectors. For the most part inspectors are simply doing their job, which is to assist you in complying with voluntary or mandatory requirements. The inspector has no direct involvement with your company and is employed solely to provide an impartial assessment of your compliance with specified requirements. Most inspectors are more interested in helping you understand the requirements than in simply filling up pages with things they find wrong. Inspectors are not paid a "commission" for finding violations and certainly should not be expected to find a minimum quota of violations.

 

When an inspector does find a violation(s) (and no manufacturing operation should expect to be "perfect" in this day of increasingly complex requirements) their findings should be considered as a guide for improvement. Based upon the seriousness of the violation, you should develop a remedy and a plan of action to prevent reoccurrences in a timely manner.

Why Inspect?

Let's discuss why inspections are conducted and the types of inspections which normally occur in industry today. Since no one seems to truly enjoy inspections (including the inspector), there must be compelling benefits in order to justify the trouble. After all, the reason you are in business is to make money by manufacturing a product or providing a service. Inspections may interfere with the flow of this process and do not directly produce anything you can sell. So, why inspect?

 

- Sometimes inspections are required by various government agencies, conducted either by agency personnel or by independent inspection agencies which have been approved by the governmental agency. There is nothing you can do to avoid such inspections if you wish to participate in the market which they control, but you can make the process as pleasant and productive as possible.

 

- A second type of inspection is independent third party agency inspection which is not mandated by a government entity, but which may be required by finance companies, insurance companies, an industry association, or other outside entity.

 

- A third type of inspection is voluntary inspection, normally conducted by an independent third party agency at the request of management. There are several reasons why management would make a decision to invest in voluntary inspection, including:

  • An extra set of eyes, particularly eyes which have seen a broad range of similar manufacturing facilities, can provide valuable information on the strengths and weaknesses of a manufacturing operation.
  • Increasing the level of compliance and/or quality of the product will inevitably lead to greater customer satisfaction, customer referrals, and other "free" advertising.
  • Shipping products which comply with all necessary standards results in lower warranty costs.
  • Manufacturing the highest quality product possible normally results in higher employee morale.
  • Voluntary inspections, and others, can be a valuable source of employee training.
  • Participation in a voluntary independent inspection program can sometimes result in savings on insurance premiums.
  • Inspection records can provide effective evidence of the manufacturer’s commitment to quality and compliance in the event of legal actions.

There are probably as many more reasons as there are companies.

Working with the Inspector

Inspections of any type are much more effective (and less stressful) if you work with the inspector as opposed to against him or her. Remember, the inspector is not there as "punishment." The inspector's only concern is performing the evaluation fairly, completely, and accurately. They can do so much more effectively and efficiently with your cooperation.

 

You understand your processes and operations better than the inspector does or will. Your cooperation can head off many misunderstandings and speed up the process considerably. You should always have someone who is familiar with your entire operation accompany the inspector at all times. They can serve as a guide and answer questions regarding production flow, locations of records, normal and special procedures, etc.

 

When an inspector has a question, he or she will normally do whatever is necessary to obtain the answer. Without help, the inspector will be forced to spend much more time and effort to discover the information. These actions often lead to more disruption to your processes than would otherwise be the case. With proper guidance, inspectors can get the answers they need and provide more effective service. Even when you know the answer is not one you want them to find, there is little point in making them spend more time than necessary to find it; frequently, a knowledgeable guide can head off misinterpretations of the inspector's findings.

 

When an inspector does discover violations or discrepancies, you should insist that they reference their findings to a particular standard section. This will avoid future confusion and assure that both you and the inspector understand the information correctly. There is a standard procedure for all inspection programs, although sometimes inspectors get a bit lax and skip this step.

 

Occasionally, you may run into an inspector (particularly a government mandated inspector) who has personal expectations beyond the actual standard requirements. In this situation, insist on a proper reference, as this will help you to take the inspector's comment's into consideration as well as avoid being cited for a violation which you don't deserve.

 

When all else fails and you do not agree with an inspector's determination of a violation, you should contact the inspector's supervisor and try to resolve the situation before the inspection is complete.

The Inspection Process

What can you expect during the actual inspection process? This section will help you understand the process and knowing what to expect can reduce your anxiety and lead to a more profitable experience for all concerned.

An inspector should begin the process with a brief, though important, introductory meeting. The agenda for this meeting can include the following:

  • introduction
  • a discussion of the basis for the inspection
  • as statement of the expected duration
  • a description of the standards and/or requirements which are being applied
  • the establishment of a working relationship with your on-site "guide" for the inspector

 

In addition, you may want to use this meeting to make the inspector aware of your requirements such as required safety equipment, your smoking policy, break times, quitting times, security and confidential concerns, etc.

 

The inspector will sign any confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement you may have. Realize, however, that the inspector is normally operating under strict confidentiality guidelines adopted by their employer. Any inspector who does not honor your confidentiality, with or without a written agreement, risks professional humiliation and a loss of any future business. Rest assured that, in many years of experience in this business, confidentiality problems have been quite rare.

 

For the inspector's first visit to your facility, you should offer a quick overview of your business and, if possible, a tour of the facility to acquaint the inspector with your product and the overall processes you follow. If the facility is too large to make a tour practical, a verbal description will have to suffice. If the inspector has been to the facility before, inform him or her of any changes to the product or production processes since the last visit.

 

Following the familiarization, the inspector will normally conduct a line inspection from the beginning of the manufacturing process through to the end. This inspection may proceed in any logical sequence and may, depending upon the nature of the inspector's questions, depart from the production sequence at times. He or she may do so in order to follow the trail to a more in-depth analysis of the questions. 

 

This is the most visible phase of the inspection process to production personnel but it should be conducted in a manner which will not interfere unnecessarily with their work. These employees may be asked to explain what they are doing and possibly why. However, the inspector will likely rely on the guide for such information to avoid disrupting production personnel whenever possible. 

 

Line inspections usually include a review of any quality control paperwork present on the line as well as any quality control work in process. The inspector may make several notes during this phase of the inspection as well as subsequent phases. Do not be unduly concerned by this action as the inspector frequently does so in order to note areas he or she wishes to explore further at a later point.

 

Following the production inspection, the inspector will wish to review records of completed units and other documents related to compliance with the requirements. While this phase may be rather lengthy at the first inspection, subsequent inspections may simply consist of a spot check to determine that the record-keeping is maintained.

 

The inspection process should conclude with a closing meeting attended by the inspector, the guide, and any concerned company management. At this meeting, the inspector will briefly describe any findings and answer questions regarding these findings. Take advantage of this time. Some findings may be resolved prior to the final report if the inspector has overlooked evidence of compliance. 

 

When all items have been understood by all concerned, the final report will be presented with an explanation of any required responses. In the case of voluntary inspections, responses may not be required.

What NOT to Expect

You should not expect the inspector to find every violation or mistake you have made. No one is perfect (perhaps especially inspectors) and the brief time they spend in your facility provides them only a sampling of your operation. Additionally, no inspector can be expected to be an expert in all phases of your product. You should also not expect the inspector to reveal any details of what he or she has observed at any other facility. Inspections may, from time to time, offer suggestions based upon their experience, but they should not be expected to tell you how to resolve any violations or discrepancies they have noted.

Conclusion

Properly conducted, the inspection process should be less painful than reading this page! The outcome of the inspection can provide the following short and long term results:

  • a useful baseline for evaluating your facility
  • a good indication of the direction you are headed
  • the perennial problem areas which might require extra attention and
  • the extent to which changes you have made are affecting the production process

 

Over time, you will develop a relationship over time with the inspectors who visit your facility. This relationship can provide a source of guidance through the labyrinth of ever-changing regulations you have to negotiate. After all, regulations represent major concerns for the inspector.

 

Your inspector can truly be there to help you if the relationship is allowed to develop in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.

 

Good luck with your inspection!

TR Arnold independent inspection agency.