Jon Murthy, UKAS Marketing Manager explains the difference between accreditation and certification, noting how professional standards create confidence
The theme of this year’s World Accreditation Day (9th June) is how accreditation delivers confidence in construction and the built environment. Everyone from planners and regulators to architects and contractors to building owners and managers knows the importance of implementing a robust quality assurance system. Standards, conformity assessment and accreditation are the established three pillars on which most quality infrastructures are built. When it comes to implementing a quality management system, most organisations are faced with a straight choice between accreditation and certification. But what’s the difference, what areas are covered and what are the benefits for everyone involved?
Accreditation vs Certification
The terms accreditation and certification are often used interchangeably and occasionally together. Despite the obvious confusion this can cause, the difference between the two distinct quality management processes can be easily explained. Certification represents a written assurance by a third party of the conformity of a product, process or service to specified requirements. Accreditation, on the other hand, is the formal recognition by an authoritative body of the competence to work to specified standards. All accreditation standards include the principles of quality management systems, such as those found in the well-recognised ISO 9001 QMS standard. It is the ability to demonstrate technical competence that puts accredited certification on a level above non-accredited certification.
In effect, certification is the third-party endorsement of an organisation’s systems or products, while accreditation is an independent third-party endorsement of the certification. The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the national accreditation body for the UK. Its role is to assess organisations that are providing testing, inspection, calibration and certification services (collectively known as conformity assessment bodies) against internationally recognised standards. In the UK, if conformity assessment bodies are the watchmen, then UKAS watches the watchmen.
Another crucial difference between accreditation and certification relates to the activities it covers. Organisations receive accreditation for specific activities whereas certification relates to the company as a whole. For example, if you are looking to test air leakage of a building it would be best to choose an organisation that has been accredited against the testing standard ISO 17025 rather than one that has a general quality certification of ISO 9001. Further, the ISO 17025 testing activities themselves are tightly defined, so it is advisable to check the organisation’s schedule of accreditation closely; one that holds ISO 17025 accreditation for sound-proof testing would not necessarily hold ISO 17025 accreditation for air leakage.
What can be accredited?
Despite the complexity and intricacy of the construction sector, nearly every aspect of infrastructure, construction projects and building management benefits in some way from accredited conformity assessment services.
Testing and calibration laboratories are accredited by UKAS against the requirements of ISO/IEC 17025. A wide range of scopes can be applied to the construction industry, including the testing and calibration of both raw materials and related products for durability, safety, characteristics and specification. Pre-completion testing for air-leakage, noise acoustic and sound-proofing can also be accredited. Similarly, calibration laboratories deliver certainty of measurement in a number of crucial areas, from mass, density and torque hardness to electrical, pressure and humidity calculation.
There are many certification bodies providing ISO 9001 Quality Management Systems and ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems certifications that have been accredited by UKAS. Similarly, several aspects of the National Highways Sector Schemes, as well as construction-related products and materials, are certified by UKAS accredited certification bodies.
Day to day construction activities such as lifting, welding and the carriage of dangerous goods are all examined by inspection bodies accredited to ISO 17020. Accredited inspection bodies are also used for the installation and operation of pressure vessels as well as utility services such as gas and electrical safety. For building owners and duty holders, UKAS also accredits organisations providing legionella risk assessment and asbestos surveying services.
A beneficial environment
Just as nearly every aspect of the construction process can be accredited, all of the key stakeholders can benefit from an accreditation-based quality infrastructure.
By providing assurance that organisations are compliant with their regulatory responsibilities, accreditation reduces the need for government and regulatory bodies to employ their own specialist assessment personnel. In addition to providing a safe working environment for employees, accreditation also gives construction companies confidence that products and raw materials are safe and meet specifications. For manufacturers, accreditation helps limit product failure while simultaneously reducing technical barriers to trade. The owners and operators of buildings can help to discharge their legal duties by using accredited companies to monitor the safety of the built environment. Consumers benefit too, as accreditation helps generate confidence in the safety of buildings and infrastructure, as well as demonstrable proof of claims about sustainability, environmental performance and energy efficiency.
An ever growing UK population continues to increase the pressure on existing commercial and domestic infrastructure, particularly in urban areas. Combined with rising financial and environmental concerns, the need for safer, cleaner and smarter construction projects has never been greater. By helping to control risk, demonstrate regulatory compliance and provide quality assurance, accreditation delivers confidence throughout the supply chain that buildings and infrastructure are both safe and of high quality. It also helps drive efficiencies and the adoption of best practices, thereby reducing costs and easing the financial pressures for everyone concerned.
The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS)