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Spotlight on accreditation standards: ISO/IEC 17021-1 management system certification

Certification of management systems plays a crucial role in demonstrating an organisation’s commitment to meeting customer expectations and best practices. Among the various standards used for certification, ISO/IEC 17021-1 is a widely recognised and respected framework for evaluating the competence of certification bodies offering management systems certification.  Accreditation to this standard provides confidence to customers and stakeholders that the certification process is competently undertaken, reliable, consistent, and impartial.  UKAS plays a pivotal role in accrediting certification bodies to ISO/IEC 17021-1.

Understanding ISO/IEC 17021-1

ISO/IEC 17021-1 is a standard that sets out the requirements for bodies providing auditing and certification of management systems. It establishes the criteria for evaluating the competence, impartiality, and performance of these certification bodies. The standard applies to various management system certifications, including but not limited to ISO 9001 (Quality Management), ISO 14001 (Environmental Management), and ISO 45001 (Health and Safety Management). ISO/IEC 17021-1 ensures that certification bodies operate in an impartial, consistent and reliable manner, adhering to internationally recognised best practices.  ISO/IEC 17021-1 is supplemented by other standards including additional parts of the ISO/IEC 17021 series that specify competence requirements for the various management system standards, e.g. ISO/IEC 17021-3 addresses competence of auditors and other certification body resources for Quality Management Systems Certification.

Types of management system certification

Management system certification involves the auditing of an organisation’s processes, procedures, and practices against a specific standard.  There are several types of management system certifications, each focusing on different aspects of organisational performance.  Some examples of these are detailed below:

  1. ISO 9001: This certification demonstrates an organisation’s commitment to quality management. It ensures that the organisation has implemented a robust quality management system, meeting the requirements of ISO 9001.
  2. ISO 14001: This focuses on environmental management. It signifies that an organisation has implemented effective environmental management practices, minimising its impact on the environment.
  3. ISO 45001: This certification relates to health and safety management. It demonstrates that an organisation has prioritised the health and safety of its employees and has implemented appropriate systems to manage occupational risks.
  4. ISO 27001: This is concerned with information security management. It indicates that an organisation has implemented a comprehensive information security management system, protecting sensitive data and mitigating cybersecurity risks.

There are numerous other standards available for specific industries and sectors.

The importance of accreditation for ISO/IEC 17021-1 certification

Accreditation of certification bodies ensures the certification body issuing the certification meets the requirements of ISO/IEC 17021-1, which provides many benefits and securities:

Accreditation provides assurance that a certification body is technically competent and operates impartially. The certification body undergoes a rigorous assessment process, which examines the certification body’s processes, procedures, impartiality and competence to ensure compliance with ISO/IEC 17021-1. Accreditation instils confidence in customers and stakeholders that the certification process is robust and trustworthy.

Using an unaccredited certification body poses risks to organisations seeking certification. Accreditation ensures that the certification process follows internationally recognised best practices and is consistent across different certification bodies. This consistency is crucial for customers and stakeholders who rely on the certification to make informed decisions about suppliers, partners, and service providers.

Accredited certification holds greater credibility in the marketplace and can provide organisations with a competitive advantage by demonstrating their commitment to quality and best practices. Accreditation is often a requirement in contracts, particularly in complex supply chains, as it ensures traceability and reliability. Furthermore, UKAS accreditation is recognised internationally, providing organisations with access to global markets and enhancing their competitiveness.

By obtaining accreditation to ISO/IEC 17021-1, certification bodies can differentiate themselves from their competitors. The UKAS accreditation symbol, exclusively available on UKAS-accredited certificates, serves as a mark of competence and quality. This symbol allows consumers of certification services to easily recognise the certification bodies that meet the rigorous standards set by UKAS.

The process of gaining accreditation to ISO/IEC 17021-1

Accreditation to ISO/IEC 17021-1 involves a comprehensive assessment of a certification body’s competence, impartiality, and compliance with the standard’s requirements. Prior to submitting an application, the certification body will contact UKAS in order to establish whether the organisation is a suitable candidate for accreditation. The body that wishes to apply for accreditation will speak with customer service representatives and will also be placed in touch with an Assessment Manager appropriate for their field. Following these conversations the certification body will have a good understanding of whether accreditation is right and timely for them, and what next steps need to be taken.

The certification body submits an application to UKAS. The application includes details of the organisation’s policies, procedures, and legal status, among other relevant information. The submission of key policy and procedure documents is essential to ensure swift processing.

Following the review of documentation, an assessment is conducted by the assessment team, which will include the Assessment Manager/Lead Assessor and Technical Assessors/Experts required. This assessment review of the certification body’s processes, interview staff members, and review sample certification files as well of witnessing assessments.

If any non-conformities or areas for improvement are identified during the assessment, the certification body is required to address them through corrective actions. Once the corrective actions have been implemented and verified, UKAS will make a decision regarding the accreditation.

If the certification body successfully meets the requirements of ISO/IEC 17021-1 and related parts, it is granted accreditation for a defined scope. The accreditation is typically valid for a defined period, during which surveillance activities are conducted by UKAS to ensure ongoing compliance.

The process of gaining accreditation to ISO/IEC 17021-1 is rigorous and thorough, ensuring that only competent and reliable certification bodies achieve accreditation.

Benefits of accredited certification to customers

Accredited certification provides significant benefits to customers who rely on certifications to make informed decisions:

1. Assurance of quality

Accredited certification assures customers that the certified organisation has implemented a management system that meets the requirements of the relevant standard. It provides confidence that the organisation is committed to producing high-quality products and services, meeting customer expectations.

2. Reliable supplier selection

Accredited certification enables customers to select suppliers, partners, and service providers with confidence. By considering certifications issued by accredited certification bodies, customers can trust that the certifications are reliable and consistent. This facilitates the establishment of robust supply chains and reduces the risks associated with working with unverified organisations.

3. Increased competitiveness

Organisations that hold accredited certifications gain a competitive edge in the marketplace. Many procurement contracts and tenders require accredited certification, emphasising the added confidence and assurance it provides. Having accredited certification increases the likelihood of winning tenders and contracts, ultimately leading to increased revenue and profitability.

4. Enhanced customer satisfaction

The certification process encourages organisations to understand their customers’ needs and expectations better. By implementing a certified management system, organisations can improve their efficiency, reduce errors, and increase customer satisfaction. Satisfied customers are more likely to remain loyal and engage in repeat business.

5. Improved operational efficiency

Accredited certification helps organisations optimise their processes and procedures, leading to increased efficiency and cost savings. By following internationally recognised best practices, organisations can streamline their operations, reduce waste, and improve overall performance. This increased efficiency translates into higher profitability and competitiveness.

6. Evidence-based decision making

Certification provides management with a structured framework for quality management and decision-making. Accredited certification ensures that decisions are based on evidence and data, rather than intuition. This leads to more informed decision-making, improved performance, and increased competitiveness.

7. Employee engagement and supplier relationships

The certification process promotes internal communication and employee engagement. By involving employees in designing process improvements, organisations can increase productivity, job satisfaction, and overall engagement. Additionally, accredited certification helps organisations establish better relationships with suppliers, contributing to more efficient supply chains and cost reductions.

8. Culture of continual improvement

Accredited certification fosters a culture of continual improvement within organisations. It encourages the identification and exploitation of opportunities for improvement, leading to innovation and increased competitiveness. By implementing a certified management system, organisations can create an environment that embraces change and drives continual enhancement.

Checking the accredited status of management system certification

To verify the validity of accredited certification claims you can use UKAS CertCheck. UKAS CertCheck is a free-to-use online database of UKAS accredited management system certification that allows you to verify the validity of any UKAS accredited management system certification, providing greater protection to the integrity of the supply chains you rely on. Users of CertCheck can set up free accounts, allowing them to proactively track the certification status of each organisation in their supply chain.

The CertCheck system has also been instrumental in preventing fraud, and in reporting counterfeit certificates that have been in circulation.

Accredited certification brings numerous benefits to customers, ranging from quality assurance and reliable supplier selection to increased competitiveness and improved operational efficiency. By choosing certifications issued by UKAS accredited Certification Bodies, customers can make informed decisions and trust in the credibility of the certified organisations.