ISO9004:2009 is the guidance document for ISO9001. It explains the paragraphs of the standard in reasonably plain English and takes the implementation of the standard beyond compliance. It’s not only an important standard for anyone implementing the ISO9001 quality standard, it also provides some really useful guidance for anyone who just wants to look at their business with fresh eyes and improve performance.

The standard defines eight key quality management principles that are fundamental to the success of any business:

  • Customer focus
  • Leadership
  • Involvement of people
  • Process approach
  • System approach to management
  • Continual improvement
  • Decision making based on facts
  • Mutually beneficial supplier relationships

Over the next few months we shall look at each of the principles and how they can be applied in any business and the key benefits

Principle 1 – Customer Focus

All businesses depend on their customers and need to understand current and future customer needs. They should meet customer requirements and strive to exceed their expectations.

Applying the principles of customer focus should lead to one or more of the following activities being carried out:

  • Researching and understanding customer needs and expectations.
  • Ensuring that the objectives of the organisation are linked to customer needs and expectations.
  • Communicating customer needs and expectations throughout the organisation.
  • Measuring customer satisfaction and acting on the results.
  • Systematically managing customer relationships.
  • Ensuring a balanced approach between satisfied customers and other interested parties (e.g. owners, employees, suppliers, financiers, local communities and society as a whole).

Key benefits:

  • Increased revenue and market share obtained through flexible and fast responses to market opportunities.
  • Increased effectiveness in the use of the organisations’ resources to enhance customer satisfaction.
  • Improved customer loyalty leading to repeat business.

To find out more about the principles of good quality management and how it can help your business drop us an email or call 0333 321 0131.

It comes as no surprise that sitting at a desk all day isn’t good for our bodies. Whilst most of us are aware of the muscular-skeletal problems associated with desk-based jobs, and the need for good posture, many of us are not aware of just how many problems can be caused by the sedentary lifestyle associated with spending so many hours a day at our desks, often not even breaking to eat our lunch. Be warned, you may decide to adopt a new approach to your workday once you realise the full implications of sitting down for so much of your life!

Deep Vein Thrombosis: Most of us are familiar with the condition DVT, commonly dubbed “economy class syndrome.” However, a recent study in New Zealand found that 34% of 62 people admitted to hospital suffering DVT had been sitting at their desk for long periods, compared to only 21% who had recently taken a flight.

Obesity: Surprise, surprise – sitting at your desk all day contributes to obesity. When sitting for extended periods your body starts to slow, fewer calories are burnt and fewer fat burning enzymes move through your body. This leads to slowed metabolism, reduced energy levels and weight gain. Those of us who don’t get up and walk around every hour or so gain two to three pounds a year.  That’s approximately 1 and a half to 2 stone over 10 years!

Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and bowl cancer: Most of us accept that a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of heart disease, but did you know that sitting for prolonged periods of time can increase your chances of developing diabetes by as much as 7%? Sitting all day can result in increased blood sugar and insulin resistance. What’s more, increased blood sugar and insulin resistance are both linked to the development of bowel cancer.

Tummy Bugs: A few years ago, scientists working on behalf of ‘Which?’ discovered that some computer keyboards had 150 times the acceptable limit of bacteria and five times the amount found on a toilet seat.  Which? claimed that many office workers come down with a stomach bug dubbed ‘qwerty tummy’!

Cosmetic Issues: It’s unfortunate, but sitting down all day doesn’t help our appearance. While sitting, hamstring muscles and hip flexors are permanently shortened and buttock muscles stretched but not engaged, causing your bottom to ‘spread’! As for our skin, things don’t look too rosy, frowning or squinting at a screen means that you will end up with frown lines around eyes and furrowing on your forehead; looking down at a document or screen for extended periods can cause neck creases and saggy jowls,  whilst the problem of dehydration exacerbated by the dry atmosphere can leave skin looking somewhat lacklustre!

The Solution:  Of course, none of the above are necessary evils. A few simple measures can help combat the risk associated with desk-based jobs.

  • Stand up and sit down a few times every hour and take the stairs rather than the lift to keep your bottom toned.
  • Boost your fluid intake. Try to drink seven glasses of fluid a day. Why not keep a bottle of water on your desk and top it up each time you make a cup of tea or coffee.
  • Wipe your keyboard and mouse daily using an alcohol based wipe to reduce the levels of bacteria.
  • Try to focus on something else about 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
  • Get up and walk around every hour. Make a point of taking lunch away from your desk and, if possible, go for a stroll in the fresh air at lunchtime. This will reduce the risk of DVT, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and bowel cancer. It will also lift your mood!

Unless you are naturally well organised or meticulous from the start, becoming process focused is key to creating a low stress working environment. I am increasingly being asked by growing companies to help them organise their processes. It’s not that they want external accreditation or that they don’t know what they are doing or how best to do it, but new staff working in a different way, conflict with a customer or supplier or demands for copies of policies that they never imagined they’d need suddenly start eating into their time and making life very stressful.

Getting organised and having a framework is crucial to reducing stress. An efficient, working system is important in order to survive in the current economic climate. Using any of the well-known quality standards or models, whether it’s ISO9000, Business Excellence Model or another business model, will provide structure to the processes. They have been developed and refined over years, if not decades, through practical application by organisations both large and small.

Starting with the business plan and using it to set targets – financial, sales, people, markets, growth and then building the processes to support those targets helps to identify what is important to the business and the direction that you want to take it. Using the standards or models as the framework raises questions that may change your view on how you deal with certain aspects of the business, or strengthen areas that are currently weak. ISO9004 (the guidance document to IS09001) suggests both active and passive ways of collecting customers’ satisfaction information to improve performance, such as customer surveys, product feedback, contract requirements, market needs, service delivery data, competitor analysis. The Business Excellence Model suggests looking at non-financial as well as financial outcomes for measuring performance, such as market share, time to market, volume and success rates.

Not everything is relevant to every business and most companies are doing some of these things but in an ad hoc way. You don’t need to be preparing for formal assessment to apply the principles of quality systems. The point is, they make you step outside your working world and look at ways to improve your efficiency. Getting there might be a painful time but at the end of the day it should create a less stressful environment, where people understand how the company works and everyone is pulling in the same direction. And, as the company grows, all that hard work could be channelled into achieving formal recognition to ISO9000; an incredibly powerful marketing tool!

It’s that time of year again…… Work Experience. Whilst work experience can be an exciting time for young people, it is also a time where they can face hazards and risks in unfamiliar surroundings. Since employers hold the same health, safety and welfare responsibilities for work experience students as they do for their entire workforce, it is vital that you are fully prepared.

Employers have a legal duty to pay additional attention to risk assessment when employing staff under the age of 18. Since work experience students are likely to fall into this category and, since they are likely to be inexperienced, unaware of health and safety risks and physically or mentally immature, it is vital that you look at the workplace from a young person’s viewpoint and carry out a risk assessment accordingly. By understanding that young people may not be fully-grown and could find their workplace awkward and the tools too big, you will gain a better perspective of potential risks to young people working on your premises.

To help you prepare for a safe and successful work experience placement, we suggest you follow these 10 simple steps:

  1. Meet the young person before the work placement starts. Determine whether the young person has any specific requirements.
  2. Discuss objectives and expectations.
  3. Agree suitable work tasks to give an understanding of your organisation.
  4. Prepare a risk assessment appropriate to the age and work to be done.
  5. Ensure significant risks are communicated to the school and parents if the young person is of school age.
  6. Check with your insurers that they agree to the work placement.
  7. Plan an induction programme that includes health, safety and conditions of work.
  8. Identify a supervisor and mentor.
  9. Review progress during the work placement.
  10. Provide feedback to the young person and the school and expect some in return.

Having a work experience placement is an ideal opportunity to review your current systems and remind all of your staff of the importance of health and safety practices. Of course, if you need help with any of this then you can contact us.

Pic - Man with flowchartIt is a truth universally acknowledged that two heads are better than one; a particularly pertinent truth when it comes to producing and improving your processes.  This should not be a lonely job for a fevered scribe in a darkened office.   It’s time to tap into the creativity and specific knowledge of the people who do the work – the team!

A well designed process takes account of every aspect, input and output, so it makes sense to consult all the people involved.  One of the best ways to do this is to gather all relevant people together for a facilitated brainstorming session.  Brainstorming should be an informal and creative way of generating ideas, and can also be great fun.

For any brainstorming session it’s important to set a clear objective.  When looking at processes the objective will be very clear from the outset, whether it’s to clarify an existing, but unwritten procedure; to create a new one; to solve an issue that has arisen (such as a customer complaint); to identify the root cause of a problem or to make improvements and reduce costs, etc.

It is vital that everyone feels that they have equal input and a good mix of experience and knowledge is essential. Whilst more experienced people may have a better understanding of the problem, new staff may have a different perspective or experience of a similar issue from a previous job. Senior people may seem imposing to more junior staff, but it’s important that the people who are carrying out the day-to-day work have a chance to put forward their thoughts on how to improve the procedure.

Facilitated brainstorming can highlight areas of duplication, iron out issues between different teams or departments, provide a greater understanding to staff of how the business works, identify the root cause of problems and encourage everyone’s commitment to getting it right. Ultimately it’s about improving the business and ensuring that staff have an opportunity to be involved.

A suggestion box is another good way of getting people involved. It may elicit a list of preferred biscuits for visitors, but it also creates an opportunity for less confident staff to make a suggestion that could dramatically improve the business.

This is a dynamic way to engage your team in the workings of the business. Communication is, as always, key.  It is important to show people the fruits of their labour and show them how their ideas are being implemented. Not only will they feel ownership of the process, but you will also get the best picture of what actually works.

To download our fact sheet ‘How to Draft a Flow Chart’ click here.


Everywhere we go these days we see people tapping away at their smartphone keyboard, whether sitting on the train, the bus, a car (whilst not driving of course), or even whilst walking down the street or through the shopping mall (have you seen the on-line clip of the American lady falling in the water fountain whilst texting)? This rapid rise in the use of smartphones, whilst enabling us to stay in contact with work, friends and family, has been accompanied by a relatively new type of repetitive stress injury (RSI) termed “BlackBerry Thumb”.

Many users of popular wireless devices such as the BlackBerry type much faster by ‘pecking’ out messages with their thumbs rather than their more dexterous fingers. Many people soon learn to type in excess of 40 words a minute! “Whatever your thumb-typing speed, lots of messages mean lots of repetitive thumb motions. And that could mean trouble,” says Alan Hedge, PhD, director of the human factors and ergonomics research group at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

The muscles and tendons of the thumb are very strong, but they are not designed for the type of intense activity associated with today’s handheld devices. BlackBerry Thumb refers to the discomfort felt in the thumb, following prolonged use of a BlackBerry mobile device, smartphone or ipod. It is an irritation of the muscles and tendons at the base of the thumb which manifests itself as pain at the base of the thumb (which may continue even when the thumb in not being used) and an ache in the web space between the thumb and index finger. Over the long term excessive use can cause tendonitis and potentially lead to premature arthritis.

Since 1992, employers have had a legal obligation to provide DSE risk assessments for their staff, but many are unaware that the use of BlackBerry and Smartphone devices should be included within the risk assessment where use is habitual. If there is a risk from repetitive use of any item of DSE then it should be risk assessed, allowing for pro-active prevention of RSI rather than reactive measures to resolve it.

Every day, six people in the UK leave their jobs due to an RSI condition, and 1 in 50 of all workers in the UK has reported an RSI condition of some sort. However, BlackBerry Thumb needn’t be an inevitable consequence of today’s fast-paced world. Simple control measures can prevent the realisation of BlackBerry Thumb, including restricting the usage of a BlackBerry to, for example, no more than 2 short emails in any one hour period. Encourage staff to do more typing on their keyboard and then to sync over to their BlackBerry rather than typing longer messages on BlackBerry itself. And, where this is not possible, consider supplying staff with a full-size wireless compact folding keyboard which are available for most handheld devices for around £60.

As BlackBerrys and Smartphones continue to become a vital tool to many employers, make sure you make your staff aware of the pitfalls.

Often, when I meet people for the first time and explain that I’m a quality and safety consultant I get a blank look when I mention quality. People understand the need for safety and that it’s a legal requirement, but very often they don’t appreciate the importance of quality management or the role it plays in business development.

Well established companies may choose to implement ISO9001 for sound business reasons – to create a structure to the way they work, to provide ground rules for staff so that everyone works in a defined method, to put a stake in the ground to determine the current methods and to identify improvement opportunities, to obtain external certification of the process, and to provide a competitive edge particularly during a tendering process. These are all very good reasons for implementing a quality management system.

For small or young companies the concept and language can seem quite alien and the prospect of implementing such a system quite daunting. So what is the point for a growing company?

Q. Why ISO 9001?
A. ISO 9001 is an ideal management system standard for organisations that have a need to consistently meet demanding customer and regulatory standards. The standard is based around the principles of customer satisfaction, continual improvement and the development of a process-based quality management system.

Q. What are the benefits?
A. Although not referenced in the standard itself the ISO 9001 document is underpinned by eight key quality management principles:

  • a customer-focused organisation;
  • leadership; the involvement of people;
  • ensuring a process approach;
  • a systematic approach to management;
  • a factual approach to decision-making;
  • mutually beneficial supplier relations;
  • and continual improvement.

Q. Does the standard improve business opportunities?
A. The standard provides a level playing field in the market for large and small organisations alike. The standard also stresses the need for continual improvement to help the organisation at the cutting edge of the market. All of the requirements of ISO 9001 are in some way focused towards meeting and exceeding the customer’s expectations – for example, the requirement of management to determine and communicate the importance of customer requirements throughout the organisation, and the review of customer orders to ensure that they can be met.

Q. What if I’m not ready for ISO9001?
A. It is a recognised fact that any company, regardless of size, will benefit from having clear procedures in place. If you are E-myth fan you won’t need any convincing from me! When defining the structure for a documented system, even if the intention is to achieve ISO9001 in two, three or four years time, significant time can be saved by using the ISO9000 model as the structure for your system.

At Stepping Stones for Business we help small companies define their processes and help them to create structure on the road to ISO9001. For larger companies with mature systems in place, we help them to achieve ISO9001 and work with them to maintain the standard. If you would like more information please contact us.

As the workforce becomes more mobile and technology improves, the use of laptop computers is increasing. They provide great flexibility but they also carry greater risks than a static workstation. Their increased use means that employers are far more dependant on users being sensible in how they use them outside the workplace and also how they manage security.

Using a laptop can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) because they are not easy to use in the correct posture (as you would at a conventional workstation). There is a higher risk of neck and eye problems, because of the angle of the screen; hand and wrist problems because of the angle of the keyboard; and shoulder and back problems due to inappropriate posture during use, or the weight of the laptop when being carried.

As with a normal workstation, you should:

  • Adopt a good posture
    • Raise the screen to the height that you would use for a static workstation
    • Use a separate keyboard and mouse so that wrists are in a neutral position
  • Sit in a chair that provides good back support and align the keyboard to your body (“b” key should be in line with your belly button) – don’t twist to use the laptop.
  • Make sure the screen is adjusted properly to avoid glare and so that you do not have to stretch your neck to see it properly.
  • Take regular breaks from continuous work.
  • Rest your eyes by looking at objects at different distances (e.g. look out of the window).  Try and remember to blink to avoid dry eyes.
  • Make sure that the laptop is supported properly when working so it can’t move or slide as you work.

On the move:

If you have to carry your laptop with you, you should regularly consider:

  • The weight of the laptop – try and buy as low a weight as possible, ideally with removable drives and with a long battery life so you can avoid carrying transformers and cables too.
  • How to transport it – only carry a laptop and bag on one shoulder for short periods. A laptop rucksack or trolley is far better for your back.
  • Security – laptops are desirable objects:
    • Disguise your laptop, if you can, in a non-laptop looking bag.
    • Be extra vigilant if you are walking around in a higher risk area.
    • Don’t leave your laptop in a car.

Other safety issues

  • If you use your laptop connected to the mains, make sure the cables are not trailing across the floor in the path of other people around you.
  • Don’t walk around with the laptop open.
  • Don’t rest your laptop on your lap for any length of time:
    • It is not good ergonomically
    • it can get very hot!

So do they love you?  And how do you know?  Quite simply there’s really only one way to find out – ask them!  Good communication with your customers is one of the most important tools in understanding and developing your business.  It starts with asking what they want in the first place, and then checking to see if you succeeded.  Asking them how you could have done it better continues the cycle.

Not only is this an obvious way to ensure that you provide what the market wants, it also forms the basis of continuous improvement of your business.  In a competitive market it literally pays to perform better than everyone else and an effective way to find out how you are doing is to ask the people who know best – your customers.

How you go about this rather depends on what you are selling and to whom.  A short and well thought out questionnaire is probably best if you have vast quantities of customers.  Create a questionnaire that is easy and painless to complete and return, and maybe even offer an incentive to do so.  A brief Internet search will reveal companies who provide online questionnaire services.

If you have fewer clients to whom you provide a more specialised service, you might prefer to question them in person.  Schedule a chat or a meeting and build in some searching questions about their experience with you.  Ask them what they love about your service and what you can do better.  Engage them in a conversation that is all about them and their needs. It’s important though to record the findings.

Whatever form your customer survey takes, the key is to listen to the answers.  Record all the information and determine what it means to your business.  Act on your findings to create real, targeted improvements. Then, when you next ask them how you are doing, you can measure the success of your actions.

Continuous improvement is an essential element of ISO9000, but measuring customer satisfaction is important, regardless of whether you have ISO9000 or not.  In simple terms it means listen to your customers, give them what they want through follow-up, through the appropriate means suitable for your business and customers, and record and measure the results.

To find out more about Customer Satisfaction Surveys click here for our factsheet, or email us for a copy of our factsheet.

The Met Office reported that November’s snowfall was the earliest widespread fall of snow in the UK since 1993. Following the chaos caused by last winter’s snowfalls it doesn’t bode well for the coming months. Health and safety once more became the excuse for virtually every decision and a lot of misinformation was perpetuated. As a result, a lot of good information is now available to help people manage their responsibilities. Here are some FAQs:

Is it true that I can be sued if I clear the snow from outside my premises and someone falls?

There is no law stopping you from clearing snow and ice from the pavements outside your home or from public spaces. The important thing is to do it carefully, and to remember that people walking on snow and ice have a responsibility to be careful too. The government have published a snow code, the details of which can be found at The main points to note are:

  • Clear the snow or ice early in the day
  • Use salt or sand – not hot water
  • Pay extra attention to steps or steep pathways
  • Take care where you are moving the snow to
  • Offer to clear your neighbours’ path if they are elderly or disabled

What do I need to do if I have to drive in snowy conditions?

Driving in severe winter weather can be challenging. If you drive for work, even if it’s your own car, you have a responsibility to ensure that it is safe to drive and it’s worth keeping on top of things routinely.

Before you leave:

  • Tyres – make sure they are inflated correctly and that you have a minimum of 3 mm tread
  • Battery – it will run down quicker than in warmer weather, so make sure you do regular long journeys to top it up, or put it on trickle-charge
  • Engine – even with modern cars, depress the clutch when starting to reduce the drag on the engine and help preserve the battery
  • Screen wash – keep the screen wash topped-up and use a recommended concentrate to prevent it from freezing
  • Fuel – keep your tank topped up. If you get stuck in snow and need to keep the engine ticking over to keep warm, make sure that snow isn’t blocking the exhaust, as noxious fumes can leak into the vehicle
  • Windows – clear all snow and ice from the windscreen, lights and number plate before driving. Do not use hot water as it could crack the glass, re-freeze or create an ice patch on the ground
  • Locks – squirt some WD-40 on the locks to prevent them freezing up
  • Emergency snow kit – pack a warm coat, hat, gloves, sturdy boots and blanket. Take some food, chocolate, biscuits, water and a hot drink if you can, and always carry a fully charged mobile, some old bits of carpet or some cat litter to put under the tyres and a shovel to clear the snow.

For more information take a look at the AA website –

As an employer what can I do if I think that staff are using the snow as an excuse not to come in to work?

This is where H&S and HR law overlap. From a H&S perspective you need to risk assess the situation in the same way as you would any other function. Employers have a duty of care to their employees and are potentially liable if they put pressure on their staff to travel by car or foot when conditions are dangerous. If authorities are telling people to stay at home unless their journey is essential then it is wise to look at alternative arrangements, such as working from home during the immediate emergency. As weather and transport links improve so that staff could get to work, then clear and consistent policies need to be communicated to staff. Options could be – taking a day’s leave as part of the holiday entitlement, deduction of salary or unpaid leave, and if you really feel that a member of staff is swinging the lead, then you may need to threaten disciplinary procedures.

To find out more about driving in snow, click here for our factsheet or email us.