Clearing the Air (or Water) About Product Certification Bodies
Manufacturers of drinking water treatment products often struggle with the question of which certification body they should choose for their products. Many such companies mistakenly assume that NSF International is the only option for certification to the NSF/ANSI standards – after all, the name of their organization is right there in the title. They also assume that other certification bodies are not equivalent or that the certification they provide is “not as good or as tough” as NSF’s.
“Even if they happen to have their name in the title, no certification body has exclusive rights to certify products to those standards,” explains Tom Spoden, Product Certification Director at the Water Quality Association (WQA). “As long as a certification body is accredited by ANSI and meets the ISO/IEC 17065 requirements, any certification body can certify products to these standards, and that certification is equally valid regardless of whether you do business with WQA or any other certifier.”
Let’s explore the fundamental aspects of a valid product certification program. ANSI, the American National Standards Institute, serves as a watchdog for standard development and conformity assessment programs and processes. This accreditation signifies that procedures and processes used by standard-developing organizations in connection with the development of ANSI standards meet the Institute’s requirements for openness, balance, consensus and due process.
ANSI performs yearly audits on certification bodies to ensure that they maintain compliance with the strict regulations and rules associated with operating a certification program.
“Different certification bodies may test and certify to different standards,” adds Spoden. “If the certification body demonstrates that it can competently certify products according to the referenced standards, then those standards, or types of products included in the referenced standards, are added to that certification body’s approved scope.”
If more than one certification body has a specific standard listed under their scope, you can be assured that the certification is equivalent because of the ANSI accreditation and the audits that ANSI performs.
Similar to ANSI, is SCC, the Standards Council of Canada. The SCC also has an accreditation programs that deals with standardization issues. However, SCC’s program accredits organizations for product safety testing and certification in Canada . Just like ANSI, SCC will visit a certification body to conduct an audit of its program to ensure that they maintain compliance with the regulations and rules required to operate as a certification program.
Accreditation by either, or both ANSI or SCC, ensures that the certifier is following a specific set of guidelines and rules. It will provide confidence that the certified products meet USA (ANSI) and Canadian (SCC) regulations for import and sales throughout The United States and Canada. Both accreditation bodies follow ISO/IEC 17065 standard for product certification programs.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electro Technical Commission (IEC) are two of the world’s largest voluntary standardization bodies. Under ISO 17065, a certification body is required to undergo external audits and be accredited by a third party, such as ANSI or SCC. ANSI and SCC accreditation demonstrates that a certification body is operating in accordance with ISO 17065. A certification body must meet the numerous requirements that are included in ISO 17065, including the following:
- Be an independent organization with documentation demonstrating it is a legal entity
- Be impartial and its services must be accessible to all appropriate applicants
- Employ personnel that have the necessary education, training, technical knowledge and experience for performing certification tasks
- Have a quality-control system in place, with a document listing its quality policy and its objectives for quality
- Specify the conditions for granting, maintaining and extending certification, along with suspending or withdrawing a certification partially or completely
- Evaluate products against the standards certification criteria
- Provide product certification applicants with a full report on the outcome of the evaluation, including any nonconformities that must be settled
- Provide certified manufacturer with formal certification documents, such as a signed certificate
- Perform ongoing facility inspections (audits) of certified manufacturer and its program and processes
While ANSI, ISO and IEC ensure that accredited certification bodies all meet certain core requirements, all programs do not perform the same way, Spoden points out. “Just because a certification body meets the equivalent requirements to its peers does not mean that the program is identical in every way,” he adds. “Even within the ANSI-accredited structure, certification bodies have a certain amount of leeway to set policy on the frequency of re-testing and facility inspection. They also have variances in project turnaround time and cost.” That is why when you are looking for a certification body, you should find the one that fits your needs the best, while having confidence that no matter which one you choose, its certification is equivalent to its competitors.
Amy Reichel is a marketing and communications specialist with the Water Quality Association, a not-for-profit association serving companies that specialize in residential commercial, and industrial water treatment. WQA proudly serves as an educator of water treatment professionals, certifier of water treatment products, public information resource and voice of the water quality improvement industry.