While the spread of COVID-19 in Canada seems to be stabilizing and the general environment improving, we do not want to be hasty in our decision to continue with our on-site audits. The health and safety our clients, auditors and staff are our top priorities.
We had asked that no audits be conducted once the pandemic hit in March. Our focus at CSI had to be on the organic program, given the rigid timelines for annual inspections and the necessity of issuing a new certificate to our organic clients to permit business continuity. There is less pressure in the seed program, and we were fortunately coming into a time of year when there are fewer audits that occur, so we haven’t lost a lot of ground.
CSI staff are all still working remotely. Our head office remains temporarily closed. All air travel is on hold for CSI staff and contractors until at least until the end of June. We are also discouraging any travel between provinces for at least the next month across all of our programs, and for all staff and contractors.
The remote audit protocol will soon be available to auditors, and CSI will be providing training in June on the mechanics of conducting a remote audit, including how to categorize the establishments that require audits this year in terms of risk.
Remote audits come with challenges in technology. CSI has already been conducting some remote organic inspections, and the wide variation in reliable internet service in rural areas and differing levels of client comfort with technology platforms are the biggest hurdles the organic inspectors have faced.
For RSEs and seed labs that are due for an audit this year, there still is plenty of time to schedule an audit. We realize that the conditions of the pandemic are different in each province, so this will factor into our decision regarding when and how to resume our normal service delivery.
Given these regional differences, we may follow a slightly different implementation timeline in each province. Different requirements may also apply to auditors who conduct audits outside of the province where they live, depending on the province where the audit is conducted.
As we move to in-person audits, we want to ensure auditors take the appropriate steps to protect themselves and their clients. There is a much higher expectation now of the social contract between an auditor and their client when the auditor comes to a client’s place of business, which may also be their client’s home. If the auditor or the client are uncomfortable with an on-site audit, then a remote audit will be an option this year.
An event like COVID-19 forces us to innovate and think of alternative ways to conduct audits in the event we can’t do them in person. CSI carries out audits coast to coast, and the current situation requires that we be flexible and adaptable, while ensuring that we continue to support the high quality of pedigreed seed in Canada.
As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.