Published: 25 Sep 2020

In September, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released the results of its annual survey of the number of valid certificates to ISO management system standards worldwide.

ISO has reported an increase of 3.8% in the number of certificates in 2019 .

The data for this survey is obtained from accredited certification bodies providing information on the number of valid certificates they have as of 31 December 2019. 

In total, accredited certification bodies reported a total of 1,357,241 certificates against 12 Type-A (requirements) management systems standards. This represents an increase of 3.8% (49,638 certificates) in 2018. 

Unsurprisingly, the largest increase in certificates was against ISO 45001 - Occupational health and safety, published in 2018. 26,702 new certificates were reported  in 2019, an increase of some 223%. This places ISO 45001 firmly in the “top five” most-used management systems requirements standards with a total of  38,654 certificates. 

It is not easy to draw reliable conclusions from the data provided by this, and previous surveys. Certification bodies are not obliged to submit information on the number of certificates they issue, so the data set will always be incomplete. ISO notes a number of “important certification bodies” in seven countries did not participate in the 2019 survey. These included Korea, Japan, Turkey, the UK and the US, countries that typically report high numbers of certificates. 

ISO 9001 remains by far the most popular standard with some  883,521 certificates.
Alexander Woods, CQI's Policy Manager

In 2017 ISO changed the data they collect, counting the number of valid certificates rather than the total number of sites covered by a valid certificate. While this is a much more effective indicator of the use of ISO standard certification, it makes analysis of long-term trends unreliable at best, despite ISO reporting that “participation to the survey was good and comparable to the previous year”.

ISO 9001 remains by far the most popular standard with some 883,521 certificates. While as a percentage increase on 2018 it barely scrapes over half a percent, absolute numbers (4,857) certifications against ISO 9001 have increased  more than any other standard, except ISO 14001 (environmental management systems) up by 1.8% or 5,521 and ISO 45001, which is discussed above.

It’s unclear what the survey tells us about the appetite for ISO standard certification. All standards have seen the number of certificates increase, but only one (ISO 45001) in significant numbers. 2018 saw the largest drop in numbers of certificates, and it is too early to tell whether the 2019 figures are green shoots of recovery, or part of an overall trend away from ISO certification.

What is certain though, is that digital technology is transforming approaches to governance, assurance and improvement. And this will be at the forefront of standards writers’ minds as they prepare for the next review of ISO 9001, which starts in 2021. Standards must move to the vanguard of change if they are to continue to provide value.