For conformity assessment to work fairly and well, it’s important that the terms and definitions used are clearly understood. To advance that clarity, the international standard in this area has just been revised – as this blog post explains.
Conformity assessment is the process of demonstrating that specified requirements are, or potentially are not, fulfilled. Conformity assessment functions include testing, inspection, validation, verification, certification and accreditation. No industry sector is without some element of conformity assessment – whether the assessment activity is performed by a first-, second- or third-party person or organization. As such, conformity assessment is widely undertaken and plays a fundamental role in building and underpinning trust and confidence in products and services, and in enabling trade and commerce. To help make sure it’s done consistently and effectively, we’ve now published a revised international standard: BS EN ISO/IEC 17000:2020 Conformity assessment - Vocabulary and general principles.
BS EN ISO/IEC 17000:2020 specifies general terms and definitions relating to conformity assessment (including the accreditation of conformity assessment bodies) and to the use of conformity assessment to facilitate trade. The general principles of conformity assessment and a description of the functional approach to conformity assessment are provided in Annex A.
For many years, ISO/IEC Guide 2 included a core conformity assessment vocabulary, built up from a small number of terms and conditions that was first compiled to improve people’s understanding of product certification standards.
In 2000, however, ISO's Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO) decided to remove the conformity assessment terminology from Guide 2 and to instead produce a self-contained vocabulary defining the common elements that could be applied to all ISO documents on conformity assessment.
This document was published in 2004 and deals with the need for a framework of consistent and internationally agreed terminology in communications between suppliers, customers, public authorities and international agencies concerned with checking, demonstrating and recognizing that specified requirements are fulfilled.
The 2004 edition remained unchanged over three successive periodic reviews. It was only in early 2017 that it was agreed to convene a new working group to revise it, and then only in certain aspects. There was considerable international interest: 51 national member bodies and seven others joined in.
Over the next three years, five meetings were held, developing a working draft, then a committee draft, then progressing by voting and resolution of comments through Draft International Standard (DIS) and Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) stages. Comments that had led to a negative parallel vote on the DIS as a prEN within CEN were resolved to the satisfaction of the necessary majorities in CEN as well as ISO in voting on the FDIS.
Co-convenors from the USA and the Republic of China led the working group. The UK expert had latterly been the convenor of the working group that had finalised the 2004 edition and had served continuously as a co-opted member on the BSI mirror committee, CAS/1, which provided active support and challenge throughout the exercise.
Easier to understand
So what’s new in the 2020 version? In fact, it has added several new terms, as well as modifying and removing others. The aim is to make the underlying principles of conformity assessment – the ‘Functional Approach’, as explained in Annex A – easier to understand, along with the conceptual relationships between the defined general terms.
The changes for 2020 also reflect updated terminology in related sectors, such as management systems, and changing modes of business operations in the conformity assessment sector. As well, nine additional terms are defined and one “product” moved to the list in Annex B of related general terms defined outside the ISO/IEC 17000 series of standards.
As a result it’s hoped that the revised standard will continue to limit the likelihood that language used in conformity assessments is misinterpreted or misapplied, thereby minimizing the chances of ambiguity, misunderstandings and loss of trust.