If you are going for certification, or currently manage a certified ISO Management System, then you should also be aware of ISO 17021 ahead of any Assessments or Surveillance audits conducted by an accredited Certification Body.
ISO 17021 sets out requirements for bodies providing audit and certification of management systems. It ensures that Certification Bodies provide a reliable assessment of compliance with the applicable requirements, carried out by a competent impartial audit team, to achieve a consistent result for all clients.
So, why should you be aware of this Standard in particular? ISO 17021 also establishes what you as a client should expect from your Certification Body.
Steve Mason, Managing Consultant at Blackmores, joins Mel to discuss what ISO 17021 is, why you should be aware of it and the requirements related to expected service delivery from Certification Bodies.
- What is ISO 17021
- The difference between accredited and non-accredited certification bodies
- A brief overview of the Standard and client related requirements
In this episode, we talk about:
[01:40] Why are we talking about ISO 17021 now? In our internal Team Meetings, Certification Bodies are an established talking point. Highlighting the good and the bad, but in recent months it’s been more on the negative side. Steve had highlighted ISO 17021 as the Standard to look at in regard to expected service delivery requirements from Certification Bodies – so here we are!
[03:00] What is ISO 17021? The reason for the standard is that it ensures that all certification bodies are delivering the same level of service to all customers. Certification Bodies don’t need to be certified to other standards such as ISO 9001, as ISO 17021 was specifically designed for the purpose of delivering certifications.
It’s also the standard where you can find out what’s expected of Certification Bodies – like a Terms and Conditions or service level agreement.
[05:00] The difference between accredited and non-accredited Certification Bodies – Go back and watch episode 19 to learn more.
[06:10] Why is it important that the Certification Body is accredited? – Accreditation proves that the Certification Body is being checked by another body. Accreditation is also recognised worldwide – it’s trusted as a gold standard of performance. There are many different accreditation bodies around the world, here in the UK it’s UKAS, but there are others such as ANAB in the US. Check out the International Accreditation Forum website to confirm the accreditation body for your country.
[08:10] Ultimately, a Certification Body can’t offer accredited certification services unless they’ve actually been assessed by the applicable accreditation body to ISO 17021, and they need to do that on an ongoing basis like any other certification.
They also may not be accredited to deliver every standard they offer – so make sure you verify with the certification body that they are in fact accredited to ISO 9001, ISO 27001 ect.
[09:15] A brief overview of what’s included in ISO 17021 – A lot of the clauses before this are really about the management of certification body, but when it comes to clause 9, this is where the customer becomes a lot more involved in the requirements. It covers topics such as planning audits, conducting audits, certification decision making, maintaining certification, the appeals process, the complaints process and then keeping client records.
Clause 9 in particular is where you, as a client, should focus.
[11:00] What core principles are described in ISO 17021? – Impartiality, competence, responsibility, openness, confidentiality, responsiveness to complaints, risk based approach and legal responsibilities.
[12:20] What personal behaviors should you expect from your assessor? – In Steve’s experience, he’s seen more and more assessors not living up to the requirements of ISO 17021. This could be for a number of reasons, i.e. they could have an uncooperative client, they may not have had adequate training, perhaps there’s a break down between clients and client managers. Either way, these are a few of the qualities that Assessors should embody: ethical, fair, truthful, sincere, honest, discrete and open-minded.
[14:00] A lack of open mindedness – Steve had encountered an Assessor that stated ‘This must be wrong because I’ve never seen it done that way’ – which is not open minded in the least. This resulted in a non-conformity which should have never been raised.
ISO 17021, clause 9.4.5 states that any non-conformity raised shall be recorded against a specific requirement in the Standard being audited. Assessors need to take heed not to assess to their preference.
[15:15] Top Tip – If you get asked a question, then give an answer and they raise that as a non-conformity that you’re unsure as to why it’s being raised – it’s always worth asking the Assessor to show you where in the standard they’re raising the non-conformity against.
It’s a case of clarifying the question and verifying what they’re raising a non-conformity against, and if there’s a justification for it. If there is, then great, they’re doing a great job! If not, it may be the Assessor’s personal bias, and there’s a chance you can get that non-conformity down to an opportunity for improvement.
[17:05] Other expected traits for Assessors to be aware of – Collaborative: It should be a partnership between the client and Assessor – they want what’s best for you.
Tenacious: This can sometimes be taken too far. For example, if your Assessor it still assessing past 5pm, tell them to go home. If they need more time, then it’s up to the certification body to work that one out.
Other basic traits include: Observational, being perceptive and versatile.
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