Audits Fixing the Broken QA Regime

AUDITS : FIXING THE BROKEN QA REGIME

Chris Read, Chair of West Country assessors’ group DCHI examines what is wrong with the current assessment Quality Assurance system and offers a thoughtful analysis of what we can do about it.

I think we all agree that with EPCs moving outside of their original scope and becoming embedded in everything from FIT and RHI applications to underpinning ECO, it’s even more important that the industry acts to improve the quality of the EPC itself as well as the knowledge of each and every assessor.

One of the key tools in this has to be a robust and transparent quality assurance regime along with clear, concise and consistent conventions which underpin the audit process.  That said, whilst I don’t think anyone has a problem with issues being highlighted with their work as part of the QA process, I do think that every one of us has a problem with the fact that we could face losing our livelihoods
for one simple, honest mistake.

Quality Assurance has a dual role in any system.  The first is to identify problems and errors and to correct them.  The second is to help practitioners improve their knowledge and working practices so that errors are not replicated by themselves and, perhaps more importantly, others.  At the extreme this may require actions to remove practitioners who can’t, or won’t, improve their practices.  However this should always be a last resort and only after repeated failures.

Instead what we have is a system which could see an assessor lose their livelihood the first time they fail an audit.  How?  Let’s say they haven’t grasped one of the conventions (and let’s be honest, the accreditations struggle to agree some of these between themselves, let alone explain them) and have made an error which results in an audit fail.  The two random audits selected from their past work choose surveys where the same mistake has been made.  Result?  Assessor has licence revoked, which we all know will mean them losing their ability to work for clients, which will in turn mean them losing their contracts and ultimately their livelihood.

Where is the opportunity for the assessor to learn and improve?  Where is the opportunity for the wider community to learn?  Where is the opportunity to improve the quality of conventions so that the mistake is not replicated?  What we have is a system more focused on looking tough than actually improving the quality of EPCs and the people who produce them.

What’s even more galling is that some accreditations are offering courses along the lines of “Top Ten Audit Fails”, which are only provided to their members or, even worse, on “paid-for” courses.  This is the sort of information which any decent QA regime would be publishing for free to any and all assessors in order to improve knowledge and working practices.  In no other industry is there such a draconian audit regime.

The airline industry provides an excellent model which could easily be replicated in our industry.  They work in an environment where mistakes can exact a very direct and costly revenge, yet they don’t ground pilots and aircrew for making mistakes.  Nor do they turn a blind eye.  They encourage everyone to call-out mistakes and bad practices, look at what can be done to improve things and then promulgate recommendations around the entire community.  Result – one of the safest industries, working in one of the most dangerous environments on earth.

Why do they do this?  One of the reasons is that pilots and aircrew cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to train and keep flying and to throw away that investment for one simple mistake would be stupid.  Perhaps another is that pilots and aircrew are respected by regulators, employers and the public, and as a
result have a very large say in the way their industry is run.   Unfortunately we assessors live in a world where new assessors roll of the accreditation production line every week, we have no voice when policy and strategy are decided, and have little or no respect from legislators, accreditation bodies or the public.

Hopefully this will change over time and assessors’ organisations like DCHI, IDEA and MEP are working towards getting assessors more representation where perhaps our voices will be heard and we can start trying to fix this broken QA regime.

Set up in 2007, DCHI is home to Energy Assessors, Green Deal Assessors and Residential Property Surveyors from all over the South West. It is a non-profit organisation run by volunteers elected by its members and exists to promote best practice within the industry and help people find a local, qualified assessor who they can trust to do a good job at a competitive price.  The organisation’s website is at http://www.dchi.org.uk/

If you have views on the current audit regime send them to us at mtcenergy@aol.com

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