What to consider when selecting a certification body for your management system.
So you’ve decided that you want external recognition for the hard work you’ve been doing on your management systems. The next decision you need to make is - who do I choose to externally audit and certify my system against a British or International Standard?
There are many management system standards which are globally recognised, like ISO14001 for environmental management, OHSAS18001 for health and safety, ISO9001 for quality, and ISO50001 for energy management to name a few. If you’ve been working to any of those frameworks then there are a variety of organisations that will offer a certification service for you – effectively giving you the badge to say your systems meet the criteria of the international standard.
But how do you know who to choose? Should it be based on price, experience, reputation? International standards are designed to apply a level playing field to organisations across the world in developing a common approach to performance, whether it be environment, health and safety or anything else. It follows then that you should expect a certification body to apply audit criteria for the standard(s) consistently, no matter which company they are auditing.
In order to help with this in the UK, an organisation called UKAS (The United Kingdom Accreditation Service) was set up, as the sole national accreditation body recognised by government to assess organisations that provide certification, testing, inspection and calibration services, against those internationally agreed standards.
UKAS is a non-profit organisation and accredits certification bodies by assessing their technical competence and integrity as an organisation. This means that if a certification body decides to become accredited through UKAS, it will be applying the same certification audit and testing approach as any other UKAS accredited certification body. This provides peace of mind to those organisations looking for certification that if they achieve certification to any standard, then they can be benchmarked against any other company in the world with the same standard.
It’s not compulsory for a certification body to gain UKAS accreditation in the UK. You may well find that certification bodies that are not UKAS accredited charge a lot less for their services. This may be due to the fact that they’re not bound by UKAS audit guidelines, but this may mean that the quality of auditing or product testing can vary, and in a society that values trust for product delivery, or service supply, certification to a standard by a UKAS accredited body means confidence in the market place that a product or service has been scrutinised consistently across a national or global playing field.
When issuing product or standard certification, UKAS accredited bodies can use the Royal Crown symbol as shown. If you’re considering which certification body to use, look out for the UKAS approved symbol.
Make sure also that the certification body you choose has a full scope of accreditation for the sector your organisation is in. You want to be sure that the auditors have experience in your field, and that the certification body has been recognised by UKAS to work in those sectors to assess the standard you are looking for certification for.
Finally, meet with certification bodies prior to choosing one. In order to keep your certification they’ll be visiting you once, twice or even more times per year, so you want a good working relationship with them, and the confidence that they’ll ultimately provide an asset to your business.