Who Are The IAF?
I often find myself educating clients about how to identify if a supplier's certificate presented to them is certified by an organization accredited by UKAS or an equivalent such as the ones you receive from NQA. There are many different certification and accreditation bodies out there and sometimes it can be confusing when trying to compare one certificate with another.
Certification bodies are accredited, client organizations are certified which often gets confused on organizations marketing information. If you have ISO 9001 you are certified not accredited, the certification body who issued the certificate to you would be accredited (NQA).
I am not going to go into the benefits of an accredited certificate over a non-accredited certificate as you have to be careful how you communicate the difference. What I do want to do is help you identify which certificates are equivalent to a UKAS accredited certificate in such that they are regulated in the same manner as each other and mutually recognized.
The International Accreditation Forum
The IAF (International Accreditation Forum) is the world association of Conformity Assessment Accreditation Bodies and other bodies interested in conformity assessment in the fields of management systems, products, services, personnel and other similar programmes of conformity assessment.
Its primary function is to develop a single worldwide program of conformity assessment which reduces the risk for a business and its customers by assuring them that accredited certificates may be relied upon. Accreditation assures users of the competence and impartiality of the body accredited.
Accreditation bodies from countries are signatories of what is known as the Multilateral Recognition Agreement (MLA), in some countries there may more than one signatory to the agreement; USA has around 5 and the UK has one; UKAS (United Kingdom Accreditation Services). They have all signed up and agreed to acknowledge each other's accreditation and also the rules and regulations stipulated in the agreement including things such as impartiality. The accreditation bodies are fundamentally there to ensure that conformity assessment bodies (otherwise known as Certification Bodies, Inspection Bodies etc) are subject to oversight by an authoritative body and abide by the rules of accreditation.
One of the main benefits of using an accreditation body which has signed up to the agreement is that it can help break down trade and technical barriers.
These arrangements are managed by the International Accreditation Forum (IAF).
So how do I know if an accreditation body is a member of the IAF?
If you visit the IAF website you will see the list of signatories on the website, you will find UKAS under the United Kingdom, ANAB under USA. There are many others so please check the list if you are unsure.
Each certification body who is accredited by one of these accreditation bodies is permitted to display the accreditation body logo on their certificate, in the UK you will have the UKAS Tick and Crown (as its commonly known). This will show you who the accreditation body is and then you can visit the IAF website to check them out.
What else does the IAF Do?
UKAS and certification bodies apply the rules, they do not create the rules. The IAF create the rules including how many audit days are required for assessments, how to deal with multiple site organizations, how to transfer an organization etc. UKAS will ensure that the certification body is applying the rules in line with IAF requirements and also the international standards themselves. The certification bodies will ensure clients are applying the rules of the relevant international standards (ISO 9001 etc).
Not all certification schemes come under the IAF controls; AS9100 does not for example. The equivalent to the IAF is the IAQG who many in the aerospace scheme certification would be aware of.
There are many documents on the IAF website which certification bodies use and are free to download, IAF MD5, for example, is the document for audit day requirements. You are free to download and review yourself if you want to check up on what is being quoted but please be aware that this is not a black and white document and you need to consider other documents when calculating the days. It would give you a better understanding and general awareness of how many assessment days are applied and how certification bodies calculate the time required and the minimum we have to apply.
The IAF has also just released a new system for verifying certificates you receive, this is still very early days and not all certification bodies have uploaded information to the site as yet and you should note that it is not mandatory for the certification bodies to put the information onto the site.