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Last edited 12 Jan 2024
How to check certification (e.g. ISO 9001, ISO 45001, UKAS etc.)
- The management system complies with a particular standard (e.g. ISO 9001:2015, ISO 27000, ISO 14000 etc.)
- Operations are carried out in accordance with specified standards (e.g. a laboratory carrying out concrete testing is compliant to BS EN 12390-2: 2019 (Testing Hardened Concrete Part 2: Making and curing specimens for strength tests)).
(NOTE: Certification can also be obtained in relation to the physical product which verifies complies to particular standards (e.g. CARES certification / Agrement Certificates etc.) This aspect is not covered in this article.)
For example, it is very common during the tender stage of contracts to request a copy of the ISO 9001 certificate. This enables the client to obtain confidence the quality management system of the organisation operates in accordance with criteria specified in the ISO 9001 Quality Management System Standard. In turn, this provides a level of certainty the product or services will be delivered to a certain standard without needing to undertake detailed audits of the organisation themselves.
 Check 1: Is the scope of the certification OK?
- ISO 9001 certificates should state the exact nature of the operations which have been certified. In some cases, it may be found the organisation has only been assessed (and, hence, certified) against part of the activities it undertakes.
- Organisations (e.g. laboratories) may be certified to carry out inspection and testing against certain standards only.
 Check 2: Is the certificate still in date?
Certification bodies will regularly assess organisations to ensure the working practices are still being operated correctly, updated as required, and, where appropriate, are being improved. For this reason, certificates will only be valid for a specified period of time. Therefore, check the certificate is not out of date.
 Check 3: Is the certificate genuine?
Conformity Assessment or Certification Bodies hold registers of organisations that they have audited and have been shown to conform to the requirements of one or more internationally recognised specifications, such as ISO 9001. If an organisation is claiming to be certified to a certain standard, the customer can check the register of the conformity assessment / certification body (often via their website) to verify the certificate is genuine.
 Check 4: Who issued the certificate?
The first three checks then beg the question whether these conformity assessment / certification bodies are themselves operating in a suitably robust manner in assessing whether the certification can be provided. Otherwise, how can anyone be confident the certificate is merited? In other words, who checks the checker?
For example, within the United Kingdom, UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Service) is the National Accreditation Body appointed by the Government (https://www.ukas.com/about/) to assess organisations which provide certification. UKAS also is tasked by the Government to assess organisations which carry out testing, inspection and calibration services. Hence, it is often a requirement that certification bodies are ‘UKAS accredited’ (or an equivalent body).
Thus, National Accreditation Bodies provide recognition that a Conformity Assessment Body is conducting itself in a manner that demonstrates competence and impartiality in undertaking registration of organisations. A list of National Accreditation Bodies can be found here.
At the top of the ‘checker’ hierarchy sits global organisation such as the ‘International Accreditation Forum’ (https://www.iaf.nu/ responsible for determining how National Accreditation Bodies operate. UKAS is the UK Government’s appointed member of the international accreditation organisations and represents the UK’s interests (https://www.ukas.com/customer-area/ukas-and-its-role-in-the-global-accreditation-system/).
Such a structure provides a greater level of confidence to the client that the certificate presented is deserved and has only been issued following a suitable examination of the working practices against the standards in question.
Not all certification bodies are accredited by a National Body such as UKAS and there are other independent Accreditation bodies. Confidence may not be as strong where the certificate is issued by such an organisation as they sit outside the framework shown in Figure 1.
Organisations selecting Conformity Assessment Bodies to certify their organisations should review the Chartered Quality Institute’s (CQI) article ‘On the use of accreditation of conformity assessment bodies’ which recommends avoiding non-accredited bodies. This can be accessed here.
Rev 1 (18/10/2020): Original article written by Keith Hamlyn and reviewed by Mike Buss on behalf of the Chartered Quality Institute, Construction Special Interest Group (ConSIG). Article peer reviewed by the ConSIG Competency Working Group and accepted for publication by the ConSIG Steering Committee.
--ConSIG CWG 23:15, 18 Oct 2020 (BST)
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