Are your ISO certificates worth the paper that they are written on?

02 Aug 2021

Published in: Blog

ISO Management system certification should provide assurance to you, your customers and other interested parties that you operate robust systems that meet the minimum requirements of international management system standards.

Such certification is usually for Quality Management (ISO 9001), Environmental Management (ISO 14001) and Occupational Health & Safety Management (ISO 45001).

For ISO certification of UK companies to be truly of value they must be issued by a certification body that is accredited by UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Services). More information can be found on this here.

Over the years I have seen a few UK companies proudly displaying ISO 9001 or ISO 14001 certification marks that do not carry the UKAS logo; what many of them do not realise is that rather than establishing their quality / environmental / OH&S credentials they may be signaling a real or perceived lack of commitment and understanding to their customers and interested parties. Indeed, quality professionals and those reviewing tender documents are more likely than anyone to recognise and take a negative view of companies that provide non-UKAS accredited ISO certificates so if you have non-UKAS accredited certification it could be losing sales for your business.

So what does UKAS certification mean and why is it more valued than a non UKAS accredited certificate?

A UKAS accredited certification body must meet a minimum set of criteria for assessing the management system of an organization including;

  • Impartiality / freedom from conflicts of interest – this means that if an organisation provides consultation or management system services for a company they cannot then assess and certify their management system, i.e. they cannot mark their own work 
  • Minimum standards of auditing - IRQA qualified and registered assessors
  • An assessment of each completed audit report by the assessment bodies compliance and risk team (or similarly titled function)
  • Independent verification by UKAS that assessment bodies meet all of the required criteria – e. the assessment bodies are in turn assessed by UKAS.

Reasons why some companies choose none UKAS accreditation bodies;

  • Price – Operating to UKAS criteria costs money, those assessment bodies not adhering to it can massively undercut UKAS accredited assessment bodies.
  • Convenience – Many non-UKAS assessment bodies actually implement the management system on behalf of the company and then issue a certificate. This is a clear conflict of interest, they cannot give an impartial assessment of work that they have undertaken themselves.
  • Having no prior knowledge UKAS accreditation and its implications – A lack of awareness of UKAS accreditation means that many companies choose price and convenience, unaware of the potential pitfalls of non-UKAS ISO certification.

But non-UKAS is so much cheaper and more convenient, why pay more?

The hidden cost

Yes, non-UKAS certification is much cheaper on the surface but what is it really costing your business? A non-UKAS certificate could be preventing you from winning new contracts, damaging your credibility and giving the impression that you just don’t care enough about quality/environment/OH&S management to do it correctly. A non-UKAS ISO certificate could actually be detrimental to you…. and you are paying for it!

Meaningless systems that add no value

Another feature of some non-UKAS accredited certification bodies is that they do not care if you have a management system that meets the minimum requirements of the ISO standards in question, they don’t have to answer to a third party so they can issue certificates with impunity just to keep their customers happy, especially if they have also been paid to implement a system on the companies behalf. This often means that you have a meaningless management system that is doing nothing for your business.

Devaluing ISO management system standards and bringing them into disrepute

No doubt there are many good companies out there with great reputations for product / service quality that have non-UKAS ISO certification but there are also many firms with poor reputations for quality, environmental and safety standards and occasionally these are awarded ISO certificates by non-UKAS accredited certification bodies. Those with no knowledge of UKAS requirements hear of such awards and are left questioning the value of the standards.

In conclusion

ISO certificates that are not issued by UKAS accredited certification bodies could be damaging your reputation. Attempting to do quality/environmental/OH&S management on the cheap could actually be costing you money and eroding your credibility with trusted partners. If you do have non-UKAS accredited ISO certifications then think about your customers and interested parties and how this may impact upon them. Ask; Do they care? Do your certificates pose a risk to winning new business or to your credibility and reputation? If the answer is yes then you may wish to rethink your certification requirements.

Submitted by Emma from Thomas Dudley Group
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