THE REAL VALUE OF ISO ACCREDITATION WITHIN SAFETY MANAGEMENT
ISO certification, while often seen as a mark of quality, may not always reflect the true measure of safety management performance within an organisation. To understand why ISO accreditation in today’s business environment, is not a direct indicator of effective safety management, we need to delve into the certification criteria and processes that underpin it.
ISO standards, unlike product standards, primarily focus on an organisation’s ability to meet regulatory requirements rather than specifying detailed performance acceptance criteria. Safety management involves demonstrating relevant actions and capturing organisational knowledge to ensure the business operates safely, in every aspect.
However, the reliability of an ISO certificate as an indicator of safety management is undermined by recent practices in the ISO certification industry. Certification bodies, are often privately operated for profit, raising questions about the credibility of ISO certificates. The argument that only an ISO-certified company represents an effective safety performer no longer holds true; the reason is that every company that pays will get a certificate.
Many organisations lack the internal expertise needed to implement ISO management systems effectively. As a result, they turn to consulting firms for assistance with the accreditation process. This reliance on external expertise can lead to conflicts of interest between the consulting and certification bodies, as neither entity is motivated to educate organisations about potential conflicts. Certification bodies may even be pressured by consultancy firms to certify organisations with minimal requirements to meet business targets.
The competitive market has further incentivised certification bodies to offer their services at competitive prices, leading organisations to hire auditors with minimal experience or qualifications. This compromises the quality of audits, and there have been cases where ISO certificates were issued without proper audits, as reported by Gulf News – LINK
Organisations also share responsibility for devaluing ISO accreditation. What was once a strong argument for securing manufacturing or service contracts has become merely a pre-qualification formality. Some organisations consolidate multiple sites under the same certification, with only select sites being audited annually. This is due to the inherent risk of partiality and lack of independence, as auditors often have prior relationships with management representatives or the organisation. During audits, auditors may overlook gaps and areas needing improvement to avoid upsetting the client with non-conformities, resulting in lenient, diluted audit reports.
ISO accreditation has evolved to become more user-friendly and easier to implement, but it does not necessarily drive organisations toward safety excellence. Many organisations only aim to meet the minimum requirements, because it’s just easier, rather than prioritising best practices, and a genuine commitment to safety. This too, is precisely where ISO accreditation lacks, as it does not measure or define the crucial aspects of effective safety; culture, leadership, and continual improvement.
In reality, most safety management systems are designed and implemented only on paper, with the actual processes and procedures often differing. Organisations frequently exert control during internal audits also, to maintain the appearance of compliance. Therefore, ISO accreditation alone cannot guarantee not only compliance with safety management standards but genuine culture, leadership, and improvement commitments.
In conclusion, ISO accreditation, while valuable for the makers of widgets, should not be considered a primary or definitive indicator of safety performance. The certification process is susceptible to various issues, including conflicts of interest, lack of experienced auditors, and lenient audits. Organisations must recognise that meaningful and effective safety management goes well beyond certification and requires a visible commitment to culture, leadership, and improvement.