Conformity assessment: Setting the standard
In this interview, Warren Merkel, Vice President of Policy at the ANSI National Accreditation Board, explains the reasons behind the update to ISO/IEC 1706:2022 Conformity assessment – Code of good practice, and its impact on the work of quality professionals.
Warren Merkel was previously Chair of the International Conformity Assessment Committee (ICAC), the US technical advisory group to ISO’s conformity assessment committee (CASCO), was one of the co-convenors of the working group that revised ISO/IEC 17060. The standard was issued in April 2022, having previously remained unchanged since 2004.
Why is effective conformity assessment so important?
The short answer is, it is how we determine that the stuff all around us is going to meet the standards set out for them, whether they are voluntary or mandatory standards. Setting standards is the important first step and conformity is the determination that the requirements of those standards have been met.
Who does this standard apply to?
When we revised it, we were really looking to make it accessible to decision-makers, whether public or private sector, who decide how to use conformity assessment to meet whatever their needs are – that is really the focus. Conformity assessment practitioners may find this document does not give enough detail to answer all of their questions. But as a place to start, the standard is laid out in the structure that is used within the CASCO Toolbox and then we can get into the more specific requirements around the different types of conformity assessment that can be applied in different contexts.
Could you give an overview of the CASCO Toolbox?
The Toolbox is a collection of standards and guides that are developed and published jointly by ISO and the IEC. Standards for products or services can be generated around the world by any number of standard-developing organisations, so there is definitely benefit to having a consistent set of international standards for conformity assessment.
A big part of ISO/IEC 17060, and a reason for the existence of the CASCO Toolbox, is to facilitate trade. If you have confidence that a conformity assessment body in, for example, the United States has demonstrated their competence against the same standard as in the UK, then that ticks one of the boxes that facilitates that trade transaction. You still need to know that the standards and requirements are aligned, and a lot of other aspects too that are laid out in 17060, but having that basis for demonstrating competence provides a level of confidence that the results of conformity assessment from another economy and the evaluation of the conformity assessment itself have been done in the same manner.
“A big part of ISO/IEC 17060, and a reason for the existence of the CASCO Toolbox, is to facilitate trade. If you have confidence that a conformity assessment body in, for example, the United States, has demonstrated their competence against the same standard as in the UK, then that ticks one of the boxes that facilitates that trade transaction.”Warren Merkel, Vice President of Policy at the ANSI National Accreditation Board
How does this revised version of ISO/IEC 17060 differ from the last version?
The most visible changes are updates to the structure and content to match current terminology and conformity assessment practices. The previous ISO/IEC Guide 60 was published in 2004, and the importance of conformity assessment to global trade and public policy has become more relevant in many ways since then. It is now front and centre in some pretty big challenges that we all face, like emerging technologies.
So ISO/IEC 17060 will now be fit for purpose for the next five years?
We sure hope so! CASCO, as an organisation and as a policy committee within ISO, is constantly looking at whether the tools are fit for purpose and if they have the right standard for whatever is emerging. That is where the revision of 17060 is trying to land; we tried to keep it in language that is understandable to non-experts in conformity assessment. So, unless the fundamental principles of the CASCO Toolbox change, it should have some enduring staying power, at least until the five years of the normal cycle review.
Who are the main users of ISO/IEC 17060?
A conformity assessment body would not necessarily apply it, as they understand how conformity assessment works, but would use it as a tool to engage with current or potential customers for their conformity assessment. For a potential customer, whether they are private or public sector, they can use this at the beginning to ask the right questions and establish a framework for how they can accomplish their intended goals.
That is where it gets a little different for a public sector organisation. They may be tasked with new or revised regulations around, say, health and safety, and so may use a standard like ISO/IEC 17060 to start thinking about what requirements to set and what tools they can use to demonstrate that. Of course, conformity assessment is not free, and so when you look at the risk of an application in either the public or private sector, you need to decide what conformity assessment tools are necessary to provide the required level of confidence.
Are there any alignments made between ISO/IEC 17060 with other standards that can help with integrating management systems?
It certainly directly aligns with the other tools in the toolbox around the requirements for management system certification bodies. From there, there are other standards and mechanisms that are used to then apply that approach to the different types of management systems, whatever they are. Again, it is a starting point for that conversation that then trickles down through the tools in the toolbox.
What will be the impact of the revised standard for conformity assessment providers?
I hope the impact will be positive, in the sense that now they have an updated tool they can use in their engagement with public and private sector organisations that might use their services as a conformity assessment body. It’s also going to hopefully raise awareness in trade circles; there is updated language regarding recognising the importance of conformity assessment and standards to organisations like the World Trade Organisation Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade. Conformity assessment is a big part of their concern, so by refreshing ISO/IEC 17060, conformity assessment providers have another way of translating that interesting, but not always well-known, language of conformity assessment for those who can rely on it and use it.
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