Auditing ISO 14971 – 4 Steps to Assess Compliance
This article describes four key steps for auditing ISO 14971, and suggested auditing questions are included.
Let’s say that you went ahead and purchased ISO 14971:2012, read Annex ZA, and identified a couple of gaps in your procedure. After you revised your Risk Management procedure to be compliant with the revised Standard, then what are you supposed to do?
Most QA Managers struggle over whether they should purchase ISO 14971:2012. I wrote a couple of blog postings about this matter, but my point was not to debate this question but to ensure companies are aware that they need to be compliant with the MDD and the ISO 14971 Standard. The “changes” from 2009 to the 2012 version are simply the European Commission reminding manufacturers that there are seven aspects of the ISO 14791 Standard that do not meet the requirements of the MDD. Therefore, if your company has already verified that your risk management process is compliant with the MDD–then you have nothing to change. However, if your risk management process is only compliant with ISO 14971:2009, then you need to revise your processes and procedures to address these seven aspects.
4 Steps in Auditing ISO 14971
Once you have made revisions to your risk management process, how do you perform auditing of ISO 14971?
Step 1: Planning your auditing ISO 14971
This will be an internal audit, and since you (the QA Manager) are the process owner for the risk management process, you personally cannot audit this process. You need to assign someone that has the technical skill to perform the audit, but this person cannot be the process owner (you) or a direct report to the process owner (the rest of the QA department). Fortunately, the Director of Engineering is also trained as an internal auditor at your company. She is trained on ISO 14971:2009, but she did not receive risk management training to the most current version. To address this gap, she must read the updated Standard to understand what’s new.
She has participated in risk management activities, but each product development engineer participates in risk management activities for their own design projects. Therefore, she has several projects she can sample risk management records from without auditing her own work. You have communicated that you need this audit finished sometime in December because you want any CAPAs resulting from the audit to be finalized before the next Management Review at the end of January. The timing of the Management Review is important because the risk management procedure requires that top management assess the effectiveness of the risk management process during Management Review meetings.
There are no previous audit findings to close from the last audit of the risk management process. Still, the Director of Engineering has seven specific items to emphasize from the 2012 revision of the Standard, and a revised procedure for risk management. Therefore, she will prepare for the audit by identifying some new interview questions to specifically address these changes–as well as some more general, open-ended questions.
Specific questions related to Annex ZA when auditing ISO 14971
1. How does the risk analysis evaluate the acceptability of risks in the lowest category? (This is a leading question, but it is specifically designed to determine if negligible risks are discarded).
2. Please provide a few examples of how risks in the lowest category were reduced. (In sections 1 and 2 of the Annex, I require all risks to be reduced as far as possible, and for all risks to be evaluated for acceptability. The wording of this question also allows auditors flexibility in their sampling).
3. How did the design team determine when they had implemented sufficient risk controls to minimize risks? (Many companies use a color-coded matrix as a quasi-objective method for determining when risks are adequately reduced. This process is often referred to as the ALARP concept. Annex ZA specifically prohibits using economic considerations as part of this determination).
4. How did you conduct a risk-benefit analysis? (The Standard allows for performing a risk-benefit analysis when overall residual risks exceed the acceptability criteria as outlined in the risk management plan. However, the MDD requires an overall risk-benefit analysis in Section 1 of Annex I. Section 6 also requires that a risk-benefit analysis be performed for each individual risk).
5. How were risk control options selected? (Section 2 of the MDD implies that the manufacturer shall review All the control options and pick the most appropriate ones. Therefore, the auditor should specifically look for evidence that the team systematically reviewed all possible control options to reduce risks–rather than stopping as soon as the risks were reduced to an acceptable level).
6. What were your team’s priorities for the implementation of risk control options? (It’s possible that the previous question will be sufficient to gather evidence that risk controls were implemented with the required prioritization, as specified in the MDD. However, this question would be used as a follow-up question if it is not clear that the team prioritized the risk control options in accordance with Section 2 of Annex I).
7. How was the effect of labeling and warnings in the instructions for use incorporated into the estimation of residual risks? (Almost every company remembers to include residual risks in their IFU as a warning or caution statement. However, Section 2 of Annex I does not allow for including this information given to the users as a method of reducing risks. Therefore, in a Design FMEA, you would not list labeling and IFUs in your column for current risk controls when you determine the risk. This should be identified as an action to be taken–with no impact on the score for residual risk).
The above questions are not examples of using the process approach, but each question is phrased in an open-ended manner to maximize the objective evidence gathered during the interview process. If you are doing a process audit, it’s still acceptable to include questions that use the element approach.
Generic questions when auditing ISO 14971
1. When was the ISO 14971:2012 version of the Standard added to the controlled list of external Standards?
2. Please provide examples of where you have updated the Essential Requirements Checklist (a Technical File document) to reference the newest revision of ISO 14971:2012, and please show at least one example of how the risk management report was updated to reflect this revision.
3. How did you verify training effectiveness for the design team specific to the updated risk management procedure before conducting a risk analysis?
These generic questions do not require reading the ISO 14971:2012 Standard. Instead, each question forces the auditee to demonstrate their knowledge of the revised Standard by answering open-ended interview questions. Each of these questions is also designed to test linkages with other support processes. This is an example of how to use the process approach.
Step 2: Auditing ISO 14971
The next step is to conduct your audit of ISO 14971. During the auditing of ISO 14971, the Director of Engineering will gather objective evidence of both conformity and nonconformity for the risk management process. The generic interview questions that were developed allow her to evaluate the effectiveness of linkages between the risk management process and other processes, such as:
1) Document control
2) Creating technical documentation for regulatory submissions
3) The training process
Specific questions verify that each of the seven elements identified in Annex ZA of ISO 14971:2012 is adequately addressed in the revised procedure. When the audit is completed, the auditor will have a closing meeting with the process owner (you) and the auditee(s), so that everyone is clear about what the findings were, and if there were any nonconformities. This is the time to clarify what needs to be done to prevent each nonconformity from recurring.
Step 3: Writing the Report & Taking Corrective Action(s)
This is no different from any other audit. Still, it is critical to have the report completed soon enough so that CAPAs can be initiated (not necessarily completed) before the Management Review.
Step 4: Verifying Effectiveness of Corrective Action(s)
Many people struggle with verifying the effectiveness of corrective actions–regardless of the process. My advice is to identify a process metric to measure effectiveness. Then the effectiveness check is objective. For example, monitoring the frequency of updates to the list of external standards can help verify that the process for monitoring when Standards are updated is effective. Likewise, the frequency of updates to the Essential Requirements Checklist and the risk management records referenced in the Essential Requirements Checklist indicates if the risk management process is being maintained. Finally, monitoring the lag between the time procedures are updated and when the associated training records are updated quickly identifies if there is a systemic problem with training or if a training gap is just an example of a single lapse.