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Conducting a PMSC internal audit: best practice

Recommended by the PMSC, annual internal audits provide assurance that an MSMS is fit for purpose. How can organisations ensure their audits are effective? 

Under the Port Marine Safety Code (PMSC), it is recommended that Marine Safety Management Systems (MSMS), operated and developed by Harbour Authorities or owners of marine facilities, should be subject to an annual internal audit.

An effective internal audit provides assurance that an MSMS is fit for purpose, and helps identify system or process enhancements. But how can organisations ensure their audits are effective enough to provide this essential assurance?

Understand the PMSC

The first step to conducting an effective internal audit is to understand the guidance that underpins internal audits: the PMSC and its Guide to Good Practice.

Published by the Department for Transport, the PMSC sets out a national standard for every aspect of port marine safety, applicable to both statutory Harbour Authorities and other marine facilities, collectively known throughout the Code as ‘organisations’.

The Code states that organisations must appoint a Designated Person to provide independent assurance that an MSMS is working effectively. Their main responsibility is to determine the effectiveness of the MSMS in ensuring compliance with the Code. This is achieved through an annual internal audit.

The Guide to Good Practice on Port Marine Operations (GtGP) provides additional guidance and practical examples to assist organisations in promoting and executing safe, efficient and accountable port marine operations based on industry best practice.

The PMSC and GtGP make recommendations on the nature of an internal audit in the context of maintaining an effective MSMS. A thorough understanding of the Code and GtGP are essential in ensuring an effective internal audit.

Understand what is needed for an internal audit

Once you understand the PMSC and its internal auditing guidance, you will need an in-depth knowledge of each stage of an internal audit.

There are for main stages of an audit: prepare, conduct, report and revisit. To successfully carry out each stage, you need to be able to confidently answer the following questions:

1. Preparing an internal audit:

  • What information is needed prior to the audit?
  • What actions do I need to take prior to the audit?
  • How do I effectively schedule the audit?
  • What are the best questions to ask interviewees?
  • What evidence do I need to gather?
  • How do I create an audit plan and audit template?

2. Conducting an internal audit:

  • What constitutes non-compliance to the relevant Acts and Regulations?
  • What constitutes non-conformity to the relevant requirements, standards and procedures?
  • How do I record evidence and identify opportunities for improvement?

3. Reporting on an internal audit:

  • What is best practice for drafting an audit report?
  • What should an audit report cover?
  • How will my report quality controlled?
  • What is required for the completion of the report?

4. Revisiting an internal audit (conducting a follow-up):

  • Have all actions been completed?
  • Have all completed actions been effective?
  • Is there suitable evidence of effective action completion?

If you are new to carrying out internal audits, this list of questions can be intimidating. But knowing the answers will help an appointee deliver an effective, PMSC-compliant audit. So how can an internal auditor seek to answer them?

PMSC: Internal Auditor Training

ABPmer’s PMSC: Internal Auditor training helps you develop the necessary skills to assess and report on the conformance and implementation of an MSMS.

Delivered by experienced maritime specialists, our two-day course provides an in-depth review of the PMSC and GtGP.

The course details all steps involved in auditing, from preparation through to reporting and action close-out. It covers auditing terminology and practical auditing skills of questioning, recording and summarising auditee information. Attendees are actively involved throughout, via managed tasks and practical exercises

By the end of the course, attendees will understand:

  • Auditing against the PMSC
  • Auditing against the GtGP
  • Standard terms and definitions
  • The stages of an audit
  • Gathering appropriate audit evidence
  • Interviewing techniques
  • Reporting audit findings

Want to learn more about the PMSC: Internal Auditor Training course? Contact us or visit our dedicated training page. If you are ready to join one of our upcoming courses, click below to book.

Course dates

Start date Days Price  
9 April 2024 2 £570 Book →
5 November 2024 2 £570 Book →

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This article was first published in May 2022, and has since been updated.

ABPmer’s maritime risk specialists are dedicated to helping ports and other marine operators meet the requirements of the Port Marine Safety Code, regularly developing and auditing Safety Management Systems.

Our training courses for port and marine professionals are delivered by subject matter experts to support marine operations in ports and harbours.