The value of Certification

The word ‘Certification’ is thrown around a lot, but it has a very specific meaning. Do you know what it tells you about a product and why it’s such an important factor to consider before you make a purchase? By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of how to spot certified vs. uncertified products, and why you should care about the difference – especially where safety is concerned.

6th October 2020

What is Certification?

The International Standards Organisation, ISO, describes Certification as:

the provision by an independent body of written assurance (a certificate) that the product, service or system in question meets specific requirements.

But in plain English, what does it mean?

Certification is a process that a product is put through to prove it meets the requirements of a standard. It can also be known as “third party conformity assessment” or “type approval”. Certification is provided by Conformity Assessment Bodies (CAB), like the Test & Research Centre, working to the international standard ISO 17065. 

The CAB will evaluate the product and establish if it is in conformity with the standard. In addition, they will also evaluate the management controls of the product’s production. Evaluating the product and the production ensures that the item “as tested” today can be produced to the same design and quality level every time. In addition, the product and the manufacturer are subject to regular surveillance audits, ensuring ongoing conformity.

If all goes well, the CAB issues a Certificate and you may also see a Certification Mark on the product, like our T&RGETMARK.

Consider it like this. You’re browsing online for a scaffold tower or a ladder and you compare two similar products. They do the same job and have been made to the same standard. But only one of them has a Certificate and a Certification Mark.

The Mark shows that the manufacturer is confident in the product. They have given it to an independent body to verify that it conforms. 

Now which product would you purchase?

Can't I just trust the manufacturer?

Product Certification is not a legal requirement – at least not for the types of products which the Test & Research Centre certifies. However, you would be right to assume that a product placed on the market is safe. In the UK and Europe, the law gives you that right. In the UK, producers and importers are responsible for ensuring products are safe under the General Product Safety Regulations. 

But simply relying on a certificate or declaration provided by the manufacturer may not be enough. Sometimes, people don’t work to the rules. Or find ways to bend them. So I’ll give you two examples.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Certificates

During the COVID-19 pandemic, PPE became a hot potato. Not enough of it, not of the right type, in the wrong place, and so on. Suddenly, PPE was offered from all over the world to help plug the gap.

In Europe, PPE is subject to PPE Regulations (EU 2016/425) and products must be subject to Conformity Assessment and CE Marked prior to being placed on the market. As the pandemic unfolded, the number of fake documents supporting products was alarming.

The European Safety Federation has been regularly updating its COVID-19 page with examples of fake or false certificates. They currently list 28 organisations who have falsely issued certification for PPE products.

NASA and Sapa profiles Inc

Everyone knows NASA, but you may not have heard of Sapa Profiles Inc (SPI). SPI was something of a household name in the aluminium industry, before it was swallowed up by the even bigger Norsk Hyrdo.

SPI provided aluminium extrusions for everything from fenestration to ladders and towers, and even NASA in the USA.

In 2009 and 2011, NASA had two failures of rockets carrying satellites. Unfortunately, the satellites never reached orbit.

After a long investigation in 2019, NASA identified the cause of the problem – aluminium provided by SPI. Not only that, but NASA found that SPI had been altering its own test results and providing false self-certification to NASA. The two lost rockets and their payload cost NASA an estimated $700m.

As the investigation widened it was discovered that SPI had falsified thousands of self-certifications to hundreds of customers over a 19 year period. SPI’s new owners, Hydro, agreed to pay $46m in damages.

So why is Certification important?

The overall aim of certifying products is to give confidence to all interested parties that a product conforms to a standard.

Undergoing the conformity assessment process has a number of benefits:

  • It provides consumers and other stakeholders confidence in the product
  • It gives a company a competitive advantage
  • It helps regulators ensure that health, safety or environmental conditions are met

In conclusion, the value of Certification is the amount of confidence and trust that is created by an impartial and competent conformity assessment conducted by a third party.

How can The Test & Research Centre help?

Using our knowledge and experience of the ladder and scaffold tower industry, we help producers and importers with product Certification. If you’re buying these products, look for the T&RGETMARK  and ask to see a Certificate of Conformity. 

If you are a manufacturer, supplier or importer looking at product testing and Certification, contact us for a friendly chat about how we can help.