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The International Organization for Standards (ISO), is a widely recognized body that develops and publishes business and industry standards. ISO accreditation is performed by organizations that are separate from the ISO body. The advantage of ISO accreditation is that customers know an independent body has confirmed that a business follows ISO standards correctly.
In most countries, getting ISO accreditation or certification is not compulsory. Businesses can choose to become accredited or, if accreditation is not a regulatory requirement and they are comfortable that their customers trust their practices, they can opt not to undergo accreditation. ISO standards can still be followed by businesses that lack accreditation.
ISO has 163 countries as members and has published more than 18,000 standards. These standards cover such diverse areas as information technology, engineering, medical devices, construction, transport, agriculture and management. New standards are created when a gap in a process is identified by the organization.
There are both pros and cons to ISO accreditation. The fact that independent accreditation bodies charge for the audit and accreditation process is a factor in some businesses choosing not to undergo certification. For certain markets, accreditation is accepted as the norm and businesses operating in that market need to become accredited if they want to compete. Sometimes the business needs accreditation to comply with regulatory requirements.
The accreditation process is carried out by independent companies that offer audits of a business system. For example, the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) is a member of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), which is a group of ISO accreditation bodies. A2LA offers ISO certification to testing laboratories that pass its audit. The audit consists of reviewing quality documentation, analyst interviews, review of records and demonstrations of sample handling, sample testing and calibrations. The laboratory becomes accredited if A2LA is satisfied that the lab adheres to ISO standards.
Accreditation bodies can also be accredited. The national standards organization of a particular country will approve these bodies, though accreditation bodies do not need to be approved to operate. Non-approved certification bodies may have an excellent reputation and may not need accreditation to ensure customers trust their standards.
Before paying a body to accredit a business, ISO recommends that the business check the accreditation body's pedigree. Unless the accreditation body has an excellent reputation in the field, an approved body is a safer option. Businesses should always compare the services of different bodies and choose companies that provide auditors familiar with the field. ISO also recommends that the auditing body itself follows appropriate ISO standards. The ISO standard ISO/IEC 17021:2006, which outlines the requirements for those auditing and certifying management systems, applies to accreditation bodies, and the body should have implemented, or be in the process of implementing, this standard.
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