ISO, Conformity, Certification, and Accreditation explained
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) produces thousands of standards every year covering multiple topics and disciplines. A certain group of those standards known as management system standards are designed to support organizations in delivering products and services which are higher in quality, safer, more secure, more resilient, and environmentally friendly.
These standards are well known such as ISO 9001 (Quality Management), ISO 27001 (Information Security), ISO 14001 (Environmental), ISO 22301 (Business Continuity) and ISO 45001 (Health and Safety).
Within the industry there is a lot of “noise” about conformity, certification and accreditation, and the difference between these terms. So what do they actually indicate in reality?
According to ISO, conformity is the fulfillment of a requirement. Undergoing a conformity assessments is a way to prove products, services or systems meet the requirements of a standard.
Certification is also known as third party conformity assessment. It is the provision by an independent body (also called certification body) of written assurance (a certificate) that the person, product, service or system in question meets specific certification requirements.
What are the benefits of being certified?
- It provides consumers and other stakeholders with added confidence.
- It provides competitive edge.
- It provides independent confirmation of competence.
As a personnel certification body, PECB determines if a person fulfils certification requirements, including application, assessment or examination, decision on certification and use of certificates and logos/marks.
It is the formal recognition by an independent body, generally known as an accreditation body (for example IAS), that a certification body (in this case PECB) operates according to international standards. Accredited certification happens when an organization has fulfilled an ISO standard, following an accreditation process by a certification body. If we apply this to personnel certification, accredited certification happens when a person has fulfilled the requirements of an accredited certification scheme or program developed by the certification body.
It is important to be aware that there is generally nothing preventing an unaccredited certification body from offering certification services. However, professionals seeking to get certified need to be careful and enquire about the issuing certification body’s accreditation: if a certification body is not accredited, this means that the national and international recognition of the certifications issued by this certification body will be limited.
PECB is accredited under the ISO/IEC 17024 standard by IAS, which proves PECB has met the requirements for bodies operating certification of persons.
The ISO/IEC 17024 standard provides a comprehensive framework for personnel certification bodies, such as PECB, to operate coherently and reliably. The primary function of personnel certification bodies is to provide independent assessment of candidates’ professional experience and capabilities that are applicable to the field for which certification is granted.
The standard is designed to help personnel certification bodies to conduct well-planned and structured assessments using objective criteria of evaluation to ensure impartiality of operations and reduce the risk of the conflict of interest. The ISO/IEC 17024 international standard addresses the structure and governance of the certification body, the characteristics of the certification program, and the information that must be made available to candidates.
The purpose of PECB, is to develop and promote professional standards for certification, and administer credible certification programs for individuals who practice in disciplines involving the audit and implementation of a compliant management system. This main purpose includes:
- Establishing the minimum requirements necessary to certify professionals
- Reviewing and verifying the qualifications of applicants for eligibility to be considered for the certification evaluation
- Developing and maintaining reliable, valid, and current certification evaluations
- Granting certificates to qualified candidates, maintaining records, and publishing a directory of the holders of valid certificates
- Establishing requirements for the periodic renewal of certification and determining compliance with those requirements
- Ascertaining that certified individuals meet ethical standards and abide by the PECB Code of Ethics
- Representing its members, where appropriate, in matters of common interest
- Promoting the benefits of certification to employers, public officials, practitioners in related fields, and the public
Only a certification body accredited under the ISO/IEC 17024 standard ensures an international recognition. It is important to validate the status of a certification body with its associated accreditation authority such as IAS, ANAB or UKAS. For further information regarding PECB accreditation please visit: www.pecb.com/en/affiliations.
Does my certification body have to be accredited by the accreditation authority in my country?
The International Accreditation Forum (IAF) is the world association of Conformity Assessment Accreditation Bodies and has a simple motto “one accreditation international recognition”. Some certification bodies such as PECB work globally and undergoing accreditation audits in every country in which they operate would be too complex. Therefore, all IAF members recognize each other, and it is a requirement for accreditation authorities to do so: “Accreditation body members must declare their common intention to join the IAF Multilateral Recognition Agreement (MLA) recognizing the equivalence of other members’ accreditations to their own.”
Hence, as long as your certification body is accredited by a member of the IAF then the accredited certifications it will issue will be accepted globally.