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Accreditation and certification; objectives and the main differences


Accreditation and certification are third-party assessments grounded in international standards. These standards are used around the world.

In contrast to certification, which anyone can carry out, accreditation is regulated in Europe by legislation (EU Regulation 765/2008). Finland's national accreditation body is FINAS Finnish Accreditation Service. Its tasks are defined by national legislation (921/2005, amendment 488/2010).

distinguishes between three main sectors: certification of systems, products and personnel. The purpose of certification is to demonstrate that specified requirements are met. The requirements are usually based on international standards. For example, SFS-EN ISO 9001 is a generic quality management standard that is used as a requirement in the certification of organisations' quality management systems. It can be applied to all types of activities regardless of the size or type of the organisation or the products and services provided.

Certification to SFS-EN ISO 9001 is intended to increase confidence in the organisation's products and services and to boost trust both between cooperation partners and among suppliers in a supply chain.

The characteristics of a certified organisation include the following:

  • The management system suits the products and/or services provided by the organisation;
  • The requirements set for products and services are taken into account;
  • The properties defined for products and services are monitored and controlled;
  • The organisation considers and analyses customers' needs and expectations;
  • The functioning of the management system is followed by conducting internal audits and management reviews;
  • Effort is made constantly to improve the functioning of the management system;
  • The organisation ensures adequate resources for maintaining the above processes.

Accreditation is the determination and demonstration of competence. The body applying for accreditation defines the scope within which its competence is assessed. Accreditation is granted for the scope in which the applicant's competence is demonstrated. The goal of accreditation is to demonstrate the reliability of the results and/or the credibility of the certificates issued by the body. There are several requirement standards for accreditation, depending on the nature of the activities. FINAS accredits, or determines the competence of, calibration and testing laboratories, certification bodies, inspection bodies, providers of proficiency testing, and verifiers (EMAS, greenhouse gas emissions, production subsidies of electricity). For instance, SFS-EN ISO/IEC 17025 is a standard that specifies competence requirements for testing and calibration laboratories.

The standards used as accreditation requirements lay down requirements for the management system (quality management) and for technical operations. The section on management systems has been designed to be uniform with the management system standards used as certification requirements.

The characteristics of technical competence in accreditation include:

  • Qualified and competent personnel with appropriate education and experience;
  • Applicable guidelines;
  • Traceable documentation and recording of results.

In addition, the following characteristics apply to testing, calibration and inspection:

  • The methods are validated and appropriate;
  • Suitable equipment that is maintained and calibrated appropriately;
  • Tests and determinations are made in a traceable manner, essential calibrations can be traced to national or international measurement standards, and measurement uncertainty is determined;
  • Appropriate sampling and handling of samples;
  • Adequate quality assurance and supervision;
  • Regular participation in external comparisons to the extent possible.

Accreditation is done to assess both the management system and technical operations, whereas the aim of certification is to audit how well the requirements of the management system are met. An organisation carrying out certification can also be accredited; this demonstrates the competence of certification. However, certification alone does not demonstrate that an organisation is able to provide reliable results or products, since certification standards do not include requirements for technical competence.

Jenni Harjuoja, Lead Assessor

Additional information:
Securing testing, measurement or calibration services. The difference between accreditation and certification

accreditation; certification