Auditing and conquering the Kokoda Trail

By: Auditor Training Online | Posted 05 Oct 2017

Author: Jackie Stapleton

How Auditing Helped Me Conquer the Kokoda Trail

As I reflect back on my experience with completing the Kokoda Track and think of one external factor that got me through, I have to say that it was ‘people’.  Internally of course, it was mental strength, however overall, I was touched by the people that surrounded me.  If you’re surrounded by the right people, anything is possible. 

For me these people were:

Our Trek Team

  • My 2 amazing friends that came along with me, Sammy and Sylvia
  • The other trekkers in our group with their own individual reasons for completing the track
  • Our Kokoda Spirit Leaders supporting us all the way
  • Our awesome Porters that were with us every step of the way
  • The Auditor Training Online team back at home holding the fort for me
  • Friends and family who supported me from afar by phone, messages and social media
  • Past and present students who sent me well wishes by email or LinkedIn
  • Complete strangers who gave us pats on the back as we were getting weary along the way

All of these amazing people contributed to our success in many different ways, with each of them bringing different skill sets and personalities to the experience.

So, when I think of this I refer back to our Standards just to see where people fit in and how important they are to the success and outcomes of a management system.

ISO 9001:2015 actually has a specific clause, Clause 7.1.2 People which states that the organization shall determine and provide the persons necessary for the effective implementation of its quality management system and for the operation and control of its processes.

Another ISO 9001:2015 clause that comes to mind is Clause 7.1.6 Organizational knowledge which states that

The organization shall determine the knowledge necessary for the operation of its processes and to achieve conformity of products and services.
This knowledge shall be maintained and be made available to the extent necessary.
When addressing changing needs and trends, the organization shall consider its current knowledge and determine how to acquire or access any necessary additional knowledge and required updates.

*Organizational knowledge is generally gained by experience.

We were fortunate enough to have Mel as our Guide.  It was only Mel’s 3rd Kokoda crossing and her 1st as a Guide and she did an absolutely fantastic job.  Due to Mel being a bit ‘fresh’ on the track, the most experienced Porters were assigned to our group.  This, of course ensured that as a collective group there was enough experience and knowledge to get us all through and an opportunity to also share that knowledge. 

In addition to this, we had the ‘Boss Man’ of Kokoda Spirit with us for the first 4 days.  Wayne shared his experience with Mel over those first days to ensure she was well prepared for the handover at Day 5 where she would be left in charge of our rowdy group (transfer of knowledge executed). 

My friend, Sammy and I were fortunate enough to be assigned 2 of the most experienced Porters in the group, with my Porter, Gibson having completed the track 40 times in his young 27 years.  The competence of Gibson and Reuben was amazing and they were there for every footstep we took – oh, except the one time I fell in the river!  Whoops!

The water is never cool enough!The Kokoda Spirit Support Crew

ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015 both include Clause 7.2 Competence which states that the organization shall:

  1. Determine the necessary competency of person(s) doing work under its control that affects the performance and effectiveness of the management system
  2. ensure that these persons are competent on the basis of appropriate education, training, or experience
  3. where applicable, take actions to acquire the necessary competence, and evaluate the effectiveness of the actions taken

NOTE:  Applicable actions can include, for example, the provision of training to, the mentoring of, or the reassignment of currently employed persons; or the hiring or contracting of competent persons

All of the above requirements were certainly present in all of the interactions I was a part of.  To the point of the experienced Porters always supporting the younger, less experienced Porters and always being there for the entire group of Trekkers.  I always felt safe and confident with Gibson by my side and joked that I’d held his hand more than my husbands!

Of course, this is also addressed in AS/NZS 4801 in Clause 4.4.2 Training and competency where it states that the organization in consultation with employees shall identify training needs in relation to performing work activities competently, including OHS training.

Procedures shall be in place to ensure that OHS competencies are developed and maintained.  Personnel shall be assessed as competent, on the basis of skills achieved through education, training or experience, to perform assigned tasks taking into account the OHS obligations, hazards and risks associated with the work activities.

Procedures shall be developed for providing OHS training.  These procedures shall take into account-

  1. the characteristics and composition of the workforce which impact on occupational health and safety management and
  2. responsibilities, hazards and risks

The organization shall ensure that all personnel (including contractors and visitors) have undertaken training appropriate to the identified needs.

Training shall be carried out by persons with appropriate knowledge, skills and experience in OHS and training.

A few additional areas stand out from the above clause which can relate to my Kokoda experience, such as ‘characteristics and composition of the workforce’.  As our Porters are all PNG locals some key characteristics and composition that would need to be considered would be language, culture, religion and education.  Any communication or training conducted by Kokoda Spirit would need to take this into consideration.  As a ‘customer’ of Kokoda Spirit I was certainly made aware of it at our prestart meeting by Bosso and Mel. 

Another area that stands out is that all personnel (including contractors and visitors) are required to have undertaken training appropriate to the identified needs.  Now, even in the depths of the PNG jungle I came across a Porter that was employed much like a ‘contractor’ or ‘labour hire’.  While Kokoda Spirit has its standard team of excellent Porters, of course there are times when additional resources are required and they call on agencies to provide these.  My other friend, Sylvia’s Porter was from one of these agencies, and of course he was also someone’s cousin from an uncle’s sister’s wife from the same village (joke).  We never really remembered what Sylvia’s Porters name was as he was affectionately referred to as ‘Son’ while Sylvia was ‘Mum’.  It was absolutely evident that our Trekking Lead Porter, Sam was always keeping a close eye on ‘son’.

I’d just like to close off by thanking everyone who was with me along the way that helped me to get through my training, preparation and the trek itself.  The support has been overwhelming and I really feel like I need to challenge myself at least every year now!  Any suggestions for what’s could be next?

We did it - Thanks Kokoda Spirit!