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How to select a certification body (Registrar)
Auditing is an art that is subject to variation among auditors and Certification Bodies (CB’s). Auditor interpretation of requirements and their consistency may have a significant impact on your organization. You need to understand their position on issues important to your business. You want auditors that are objective, ethical and pragmatic and a CB with a reputation for providing a high standard of expertise, support and flexibility to their clients. The basis of any long-term relationship with a CB will certainly hinge on the degree of understanding and comfort level you have with your CB.
Partnering for management system certification with a technically competent service-oriented CB will help your organization realize tangible benefits such as:
· Becoming more cost-effective and efficient
· Enhancing customer satisfaction
· Improving internal communications
· Improving product and process quality
· Becoming more competitive on the national and global market
Therefore, due care and diligence must be taken in selecting a CB. Your selection process should consider the following factors:
1.What is a CB?
A certification body (CB), also known as a Registrar, is a third-party organization contracted to evaluate the conformance of your organization’s management system to the requirements of the appropriate standard(s) and issue a certificate of conformance when warranted.
2.Is the CB accredited?
Accreditation refers to the formal recognition of the CB by an Accreditation Body (AB) that the CB is competent to perform management system (e.g., ISO 9001:2000) certifications of organizations in specified business sectors. In simple terms, accreditation is certification of the CB itself. CB’s are indeed ‘certified’ conforming to an ISO standard (ISO Guide 62) very similar to ISO 9001. Such certification provides assurance to your organization that the CB is following necessary protocols and adhering to sound business practice. Make sure your CB is accredited!
In the United States, the national AB is the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB). It is an independent non-profit private organization. The ANAB and other credible AB’s (in other countries) are signatories to the IAF (International Accreditation Forum), which provides oversight of AB’s.
The IAF itself is an international and voluntary association of AB’s whose purpose is to enhance AB competency and promote the recognition of accredited certificates internationally, thereby reducing business risk and adding value to organizations, certified by accredited CB’s.
The ISO organization has no authority to control such accreditation and certification activities. It does, however, facilitate the development of standards and guidelines covering various aspects of accreditation/certification/conformity assessment activities, for AB’s and CB’s. Certificates issued by accredited CB’s are known as “accredited certificates”, and are perceived on the market as having increased credibility and recognition. This chain of oversight is detailed in the figure below.
IAF —–> AC ——> CB ——> Registered Organizations
Most organizations simply need to know if the CB they’re considering is accredited by ANAB. ANAB’s Web site (www.anab.org) shows the accreditation status of CB’s, including whether the CB’s accreditation has been suspended or withdrawn.
3.Is the CB qualified to audit and certify organizations in your business category?
CB’s must define the scope of their certification activity in order to be accredited by ANAB. ANAB provides a list of 40 recognized IAF scope (areas of economic activity) categories on their Web site under the “Advisories” header. If the CB isn’t qualified for your organization’s category of business, there’s no sense in evaluating them any further.
If a CB doesn’t have specific competency related to a recognized scope, they aren’t allowed to grant certification against it. This ensures that accredited CB’s understand the technologies, processes and industries of the organizations they audit.
Ask the accredited CB to provide you with a copy of their accreditation ‘scope statement’ to quickly determine what industry categories their accreditation allows them to audit.
4.Have you checked the CB’s reputation and references?
Make sure your registrar is well-established and its name is known and recognized in the marketplace. Be sure the registrar has made a significant investment in its management system through accreditations and that it continues to invest in its technical expertise. Useful sources for such research include ANAB; Quality Digest and Quality Systems Update.
You’ll also want to obtain references from selected CB’s and check them out. What are they saying about the CB? Real customers will be able to provide some of the best information about a registrar. When you interview the customers, ask them what they like about the registrar as well as what they don’t like. Also ask if they ever had a problem of any sort and, if so, what was done about it.
5.What are the CB fees for the entire certification program?
The cost of the CB’s services will depend on the size and complexity of your organization; the scope of QMS registration and the number of locations to be included.
You need to clarify and obtain a detailed breakdown of the typical 3 year registration term. The best way to do this is on a spreadsheet that subjects all CB’s to the same criteria. Ask CB’s to provide details of application fees; administration fees; accreditation mark fee; fees for documentation review, pre-assessment audit, certification audit; all surveillance audits during the three-year cycle and any travel and related expenses. Clarify what are essential and optional services.
Travel expenses, such as airfare and hotels could amount to a significant portion of a registrar’s costs. These can be cut dramatically if the registrar has qualified auditors available locally. A local auditor may also allow more flexibility in scheduling. Make sure of local availability and negotiate for no travel expense.
Basically, you are billed for CB audit team’s time in performing audit and reporting services. The rates may range from US $1,000 to $2000 per day, depending upon whether travel and other expenses are included.
There may be some specific fees for administration and use of CB accreditation marks.
While the number of audit days is determined by IAF guidelines, review how the CB has determined the number of audit days needed for your organization. The calculation is based on the size of your organization; complexity of products and processes and headcount within the scope of your QMS. Make sure you communicate organization details relevant to the scope of your QMS, otherwise your certification program costs may be overstated.
The key is to evaluate all CB’s against the same pricing criteria and eliminate any surprises. Uncover potential hidden costs. Ask about: frequency of visits; any penalty fees to change audit dates; costs for travel time and/or administrative costs to be added to incurred expenses; fees for the registrar’s use of the marks; and fees to terminate the contract. Make sure quotes address your questions. Learn about the registrars’ payment terms. Some require payment in advance of the services.
Keep in mind that while pricing is important, it should best be used as a tie-breaker, if all other factors are equal among the CB’s under evaluation.
6.Does the CB have local technical and administrative support capabilities that are readily accessible ?
Ideally, you want a CB that has local competent technical services accessible by phone or email. You want expert and prompt answers on interpretation. The competencies of the technical support personnel can significantly affect an audit’s result.
The CB’s administrative processes include: performing surveillance audits on schedule to ensure your certification remains current; processing corrective actions on a timely basis; and, processing certificates promptly. Consider the registrar’s support organization, check references, and incorporate the results of independent surveys.
7.How flexible is the CB in terms of scheduling? Can they accommodate your expected certification date?
The best of timing plans can go awry when implementing or upgrading management systems. CB auditors are also very busy people and their availability may be limited. You want to make sure that the CB you choose has qualified auditors available locally to accommodate your audit timing needs on short notice.
Investigate these expectations with your CB. Obtain the names of the Lead auditor and team members that are qualified to audit your organization and their availability within the expected time frame for your planned certification or surveillance audit.
8.Has the CB included additional terms and requirements in the contract?
It is quite common for CB’s to add additional requirements into the fine-print of the contract. When you sign the contract, you agree with whatever else the registrar might have decided you should implement. As an example, the CB may require your organizations auditors to be externally trained (preferably by them). There’s no such requirement in ISO 9001. Learning about these additional requirements during an audit is much too late in the process.
Review the terms and conditions set out in the contract and CB policies that are applicable to you, in advance of signing any agreement. Understand its appeals process in case you ever need to dispute a finding or its severity classification. Be aware of situations that could cause suspension of your certificate, such as, actions not completed within the agreed time-frame, misuse of the CB certification mark or ISO logo, or other certificate conditions not being met. Certificate cancellation could occur if a suspension is not cleared, serious findings are unresolved, or you fail to pay the CB.
Spend the time with the CB marketing personnel in understanding all contractual terms and conditions before signing. If necessary, subject the contract to legal scrutiny to ensure you are clear about your rights, privileges and recourse options, in your business relationship with the CB. Caveat-emptor (buyer beware) should be your guiding light.
9.Why is it useful to check the credentials of the CB auditors assigned to your organization?
It is critical that you are comfortable with your CB auditors. You want qualified, consistent, reliability and locally available auditors, who are knowledgeable in your industry. Some CB’s assure auditor consistency while others make long-term lead auditor commitments. Frequent changes in auditors can impact the time required for your personnel to support the audits and the value of the audits over time.
To your organization, the lead auditor is the most visible representative from the CB. Ask for the resumes of the Lead auditor and the audit team. You should also arrange to meet and interview the lead auditor and enquire into his/her background, experience, technical expertise, ability to resolve issues, interpersonal skills, and knowledge of your industry. Remember – you want auditors that are objective, ethical and pragmatic and a CB with a reputation for providing a high standard of expertise, support and flexibility to their clients. Auditors must be properly qualified for your standard(s) and industry code(s).
Many CB’s use subcontract auditors providing them the flexibility to access a pool of auditors each with strong industry experience. In terms of certification program costs, it is preferable that the CB audit team be available locally and be flexible in scheduling services to your needs.
Don’t be bashful about checking into the CB’s process for auditor qualification, training, ongoing evaluation, local availability and accessibility
10.How does the CB resolve differences in interpretation or other disputes?
Differences of opinion are a fact of life. The trick is to resolve differences constructively. All accredited CB’s have a formal appeals process, but it’s much easier if there’s a technical expert at the registrar’s main office or better yet locally, who can help resolve issues in real time.
Many CB’s are highly aware of the risk of auditor subjectivity and have internal training programs to ensure that the auditors are all on the same wave-length in the interpretation of requirements. Some even publish interpretations of the standards they audit against.
Ask the CB what they do to guard against this risk and if they have published interpretations, obtain a copy, study it carefully and see if it is consistent with your understanding and application to your organization. If not, clarify and reach a comfort level, before acceptance.
Over the course of your relationship with the CB, it will gather significant amounts of information about your organization – policies, systems, products, processes, technology, etc. You want to find out what processes the CB has in place to safeguard the confidentiality of this information.
You should seriously consider having the CB sign a confidentiality agreement to ensure that such information is protected from all illegal or inappropriate use by the CB, its personnel or its agents (subcontractors, etc.).
12.What information will the CB need from you?
The CB generally sends out an Information Request package that includes a questionnaire. They use the information to plan your certification program and the cost to your organization.
The information requested, generally includes:
· Details of your organization in terms size, number of facilities, area, headcount, type of manufacturing operations and equipment, etc.
· Your industry category; products and services; and business processes to ensure they are qualified to provide you with certification services.
· Your proposed scope of registration in terms of – the number of sites, processes, and range of products and services; any product or clause exclusions to your QMS scope.
· Your preferred dates for the documentation review, pre-assessment, and registration audit
· Key contacts of executive and quality management representatives
There is a lot of other information they will request of you in their questionnaire. Don’t just automatically provide them the information; engage in a dialogue with them (preferably in person with their sales/marketing personnel), when filling out the information, so you have an understanding and appreciation of the basis and use the information will be put to.
A good CB can be a valuable partner and useful resource in maintaining and improving your QMS. A good CB will facilitate external recognition of your organization and improve your competitiveness. We hope you find these tips useful and wish you much success in using them to help you select a CB to fit your needs and realize your business goals and objectives.
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