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Accreditation Vs Certification

Accreditation Vs Certification

The terms accreditation and certification are often used interchangeably and occasionally together.  Despite the obvious confusion this can cause, the difference between the two distinct quality management processes can be easily explained.  Certification represents a written assurance by a third party of the conformity of a product, process or service to specified requirements.  Accreditation, on the other hand, is the formal recognition by an authoritative body of the competence to work to specified standards.  All accreditation standards include the principles of quality management systems, such as those found in the well-recognised ISO 9001 QMS standard.  It is the ability to demonstrate technical competence that puts accredited certification on a level above non-accredited certification.

In effect, certification is the third-party endorsement of an organisation’s systems or products, while accreditation is an independent third-party endorsement of the certification.  The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the national accreditation body for the UK.  Its role is to assess organisations that are providing testing, inspection, calibration and certification services (collectively known as conformity assessment bodies) against internationally recognised standards.  In the UK, if conformity assessment bodies are the watchmen, then UKAS watches the watchmen.

Another crucial difference between accreditation and certification relates to the activities it covers.  Organisations receive accreditation for specific activities whereas certification relates to the company as a whole.  For example, if you are looking to test air leakage of a building it would be best to choose an organisation that has been accredited against the testing standard ISO 17025 rather than one that has a general quality certification of ISO 9001.  Further, the ISO 17025 testing activities themselves are tightly defined, so it is advisable to check the organisation’s schedule of accreditation closely; one that holds ISO 17025 accreditation for sound-proof testing would not necessarily hold ISO 17025 accreditation for air leakage.

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