29.08.2022 // General news

Certification – and what it means

Standardization, certification and accreditation are part of the quality infrastructure of an economy, along with metrology, conformity assessment and market monitoring. All these stakeholders help to promote confidence in the quality of products and services. Many companies ask themselves whether they should seek «certification» of their management systems, processes, products or services.

Although many are voluntary, certifications according to certain standards are a basic requirement to be considered as a service provider or supplier in the market. This may be certification according to the general standard «SN EN ISO 9001:2015 – Quality management systems» or according to a sector-specific standard such as «SN EN ISO/IEC 27001:2017 – Information technology – Security techniques – Information security management systems».

The Swiss Association for Standardization (SNV) receives weekly enquiries about how a company can be certified and about the costs of certification. First of all, it must be noted that it is not a company that is certified, but its management system, process, product or service. The SNV itself, just like the international standardization organization ISO and the European standardization organization CEN, does not offer conformity assessments and associated certifications. The standardization organizations are service organizations that provide the platform for the development of standards and standards-like documents. Experts from business, industry, universities, society and research develop the content of the standards. The standardization organizations ensure that the Code of Conduct and the processes around standards development are adhered to. The completed standards are published by the standardization organizations and can be used by companies as a basis for certification of their management systems, processes, products and services.

Conformity assessment body as certificate issuer
Generally, certificates are issued by an independent, third-party body, a so-called «conformity assessment body». Obtaining a certificate is the final step after a successfully completed conformity assessment procedure. A certificate is the written assurance that the normative requirements have been met. The process up to and including obtaining the certificate is called conformity assessment. A certificate issued by an accredited conformity assessment body has the highest degree of credibility.

However, a conformity assessment does not necessarily have to be conducted by a third, independent body, but can also be undertaken by a company itself. This is then referred to as «first-party conformity assessment activity». This is often done by manufacturers under their own responsibility. For example, manufacturers test their products according to designated standards because this allows them to claim the assumption of conformity for their product.

A so-called «second party» can also conduct a conformity assessment. These are, for example, purchasing agents who audit their suppliers. These have an interest in the object being subjected to conformity assessment, such as a food retailer inspecting the production facility of its yoghurt manufacturer.

Are certifications relevant to the market?
In some sectors, certification according to international standards is a must. The well-known ISO management system standards, in particular, help companies to demonstrate to their stakeholders that they have verified their processes with regard to quality and ESG (environmental, social and governance) criteria and have implemented a management, control and improvement system. It is important that the top management of a company stands behind the implementation of the management system and its certification.

What distinguishes a conformity assessment body and who checks the expertise of a conformity assessment body?
Accreditation becomes important when it comes to the expertise of a conformity assessment body. Accreditation is the confirmation by a «third party» that officially states that a conformity assessment body has the expertise to perform certain conformity assessment tasks. It certifies the conformity of products and services with laws, technical regulations and standards.

Article 2 of the Ordinance of 17 June 1996 on the Swiss Accreditation Systemscheme and the Designation of Testing, Conformity Certification, Registration and Approval Bodies (AccDO; Verordnung vom 17. Juni 1996 über das schweizerische Akkreditierungssystem und die Bezeichnung von Prüf-, Konformitätsbewertungs-, Anmelde-und Zulassungsstellen – AkkBV) defines the purpose of accreditation as follows: Accreditation serves to formally acknowledge the competence to conduct certain conformity assessments according to relevant international standards. The ordinance also lists the internationally applicable requirements for conformity assessment bodies. These are the requirements of the ISO/IEC 17000 series of standards. A well-known standard in this series is «SN EN ISO/IEC 17025 – General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories».

In Switzerland, the Swiss Accreditation Service SAS is responsible for the accreditation of conformity assessment bodies. It maintains a database of conformity assessment bodies accredited by it. According to the AccDO, the SAS must fulfil the requirements of the standard «SN EN ISO/IEC 17011 – Conformity assessment – Requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies»: It should be noted that a non-accredited certification body may well be able to offer conformity assessments. However, many conformity assessment bodies opt for accreditation in order to provide independent confirmation of their expertise.

Mutual recognition of conformity
The Agreement between the European Community and the Swiss Confederation on mutual recognition in relation to conformity assessment (MRA) stipulates that conformity assessments for the product sectors listed in the MRA are mutually recognized. This is to avoid having to make a duplicate conformity assessment when importing and exporting. Where Swiss and EU law are recognized as equivalent, the conformity assessment for a product to be exported to the EU single market can be performed by a recognized Swiss conformity assessment body in accordance with the technical regulations of Switzerland. This has the advantage that, for example, a Swiss machine manufacturer can have the conformity assessment for its machine conducted in Switzerland and the certificate of conformity is also accepted by the EU.

The European Commission already announced some time ago that it would no longer update the MRA, among other things, as long as no progress was made on the institutional agreement. This means that as soon as one of the 20 EU directives subject to the MRA agreement is updated, it will no longer be subject to the MRA agreement.

ISO standardization committee for conformity assessment standards
The technical committee for conformity assessment standards is the ISO committee on conformity assessment «ISO/CASCO». ISO/CASCO manages, revises and updates the ISO 17000 series. Experts of organizations with expertise in the field of conformity assessment can participate in the standardization work of ISO/CASCO. In Switzerland, the national standardization committee «INB/NK 195 conformity assessment» is the competence centre for all ISO/CASCO topics.

You are invited to participate!
Would you like to participate in the international development of standards? By participating in the national standardization committee «INB/NK 195 conformity assessments» and the expert committee «EUROLAB-CH», you will always be up to date and can keep abreast of how standards are developing in the area of conformity assessment. As a committee member, you will meet other national industry experts and can discuss new draft standards with them. You also have the opportunity to make international contacts.

Your contact person for further information:
Lea Leibundgut, , Tel: +41 52 224 54 21

Your contact person for a SNV-Membership:
Birgit Kupferschmid, , Tel: +41 52 224 54 18

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