Internal auditors prepare for the return to work post-coronavirus

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Most internal audit leaders have been getting involved in preparations at their organizations for returning to the workplace, especially in assessing risks and consulting activities, according to a new survey, but relatively few are actually performing reviews of critical risk areas, such as health and safety.

The survey of 371 chief audit executives in the U.S. and Canada by the Institute of Internal Auditors found that 72 percent said they’re identifying emerging risks and updating risk assessments. While 66 percent of the CAEs polled said they’re performing consulting activities in preparation for organizations returning staff to the workplace, few internal audit functions are performing reviews that provide for readiness to return. Only 8 percent of the respondents indicated they’re doing reviews related to health and safety, while 10 percent are performing reviews related to human resources, and 15 percent are conducting reviews of risk related to third parties.

Over 50 percent of the auditors polled said their organizations are not well prepared to address some of the main factors for ensuring a safe return to the workplace. That includes activities directly related to COVID-19 transmission (such as testing and making social distancing modifications), along with evaluating potential organizational liability. On top of that, more than 15 percent of the survey respondents weren’t able to provide an opinion on the readiness of their organization on around one-third of the factors, including legal liabilities and testing.

The report also looked at some of the differences in various industries. While 65 percent of the respondents in manufacturing said their organizations are “well” or “very well prepared” to address critical safety factors in the workplace, only 54 percent in financial and insurance could say the same, and only 46 percent in business services are well prepared.

So far, organizations seem to have a ways to go in preparing for a return to the workplace. The survey, which took place May 6-8, found that only 16 percent of chief audit executives said their organizations are testing for previous COVID-19 infection, 22 percent for current infection, and just over half (54 percent) have social distancing policies. However, 77 percent of companies have at least taken steps to disinfect the workplace.

“Testing for COVID-19 infection has the lowest levels of preparedness, followed by workplace modifications for social distancing,” said the report. “However, some industries, such as health care, manufacturing, and the physical outputs group, indicate higher levels of readiness than average.”

IIA president and CEO Richard Chambers would like to see internal auditors doing more to prepare their organizations for a return to work. “I find it troubling that too many respondents could not provide an opinion on the readiness of their organization for about a third of the factors examined,” he wrote in a blog post Monday. “This signals that a large number of internal audit functions are on the outside looking in on some of the biggest risks facing their organizations. This is unacceptably high, considering risk assessments should have been updated to cope with the pandemic crisis.”

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Coronavirus IIA Risk management Disaster recovery Audits Richard Chambers