8. Standards & Conformity Assessment
What are standards?
Standards are documented agreements containing technical specifications or other precise criteria to be used consistently as rules, guidelines, or definitions of characteristics, to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose.
The format of the credit cards, phone cards, and "smart" cards that have become commonplace is derived from an ISO International Standard. Adhering to the standard, which defines such features as an optimal thickness (0,76 mm), means that the cards can be used worldwide.
Industry-wide standardisation results from consensus agreements reached between all economic players in that industrial sector - suppliers, users, and governments. They agree on specifications and criteria to be applied consistently in the choice and classification of materials, the manufacture of products and the provision of services.
Why do we need international standards?
International commerce, exports and imports would be impossible for many industries if different countries had different standards for the same product. International standards for products would result in the same standard set for the same product internationally, a fall in production costs and, an increase in competition between manufacturers therefore lowering prices for consumers.
Where different countries have standards for the same products with different requirements, manufacturers in other countries face increased costs if they wish to export to a country with different standards. This is called "technical barriers to trade". If all countries agree to adopt the same standard for the same product, the cost of production falls and competition between manufacturers in different countries increases, making it possible for consumers to get lower prices.
In many industries international commerce would be impossible if countries adopt different standards. For example telecommunications, information processing, banking and financial services could not operate across national boundaries if they did not all obey the same rules.
Standards facilitate trade, exchange and technology transfer through:
- enhanced product quality and reliability at a reasonable price;
- improved health, safety and environmental protection, and reduction of waste;
- greater compatibility and interoperability of goods and services;
- simplification for improved usability; ¬∑ reduction in the number of models, and thus reduction in costs;
- increased distribution efficiency, and ease of maintenance.
Customers and users need to be assured that products and services conform to the same standard internationally. Certificates of conformity to specified standards issued by certification / registration bodies accredited by IAF MLA members, gives customers and users the assurance they need to conduct business.
What are the benefits of conformity assessment?
Conformity assessment is the process by which a body, that is known to be competent and credible, issues a certificate that a particular business or product will comply with a particular standard. The competence and credibility of a certification / registration body is normally assured when it is accredited by an IAF MLA member. Conformity assessment provides benefits for manufacturers and service providers, consumers and government regulators, as well as for international trade in general.
For conscientious manufacturers and service providers, having their products assessed and certified as conforming to a particular standard allows them to distinguish themselves from less reputable suppliers.
Consumers benefit from conformity assessment because it provides them with a basis for selecting products or services. They may have more confidence in products or services that bear a mark or certificate of conformity that attests to quality, safety or other desirable characteristics.
Regulators benefit from conformity assessment which gives them a means of enforcing governmental health, safety and environmental legislation.
Harmonizing conformity assessment procedures around the world also has far-reaching benefits for international trade in general. Agreements among nations or regions on the mutual acceptability of requirements, assessment methods, inspection or test results, etc., can all help to reduce or remove so-called technical barriers to trade.
IAF works closely with ISO and the WTO to ensure that the benefits of conformity assessment are available to all businesses and customers in all countries.
How does conformity assessment work?
First-party assessment. This is the technical term used when conformity assessment to a standard, specification or regulation is carried out by the supplier organisation itself. In other words, it is a self-assessment.
Second-party assessment. This indicates that a customer of the supplier organisation carries out the conformity assessment. For example, the supplier invites a potential customer to verify that the products that it is offering conform to relevant product standards.
Third-party assessment. The conformity assessment is performed by a body that is independent of both supplier and customer organisations. An example is ISO 9000 certification where an organisation's quality management system is assessed by an independent "certification" or "registration" body against the requirements of an ISO 9000 standard. If the system conforms to the requirements, the certification/registration body issues the organization with an ISO 9000 certificate.
The value of third party assessment lies in the independence and competence of the third-party certification/registration body. Accreditation of a certification/registration body assures customers, users and government regulators that a product or service fully complies with relevant standards. Standards are constantly under careful surveillance by the accreditation body, which demonstrates the independence and competence of the certification/registration body.
Next: 9. What is Certification/Registration?