Accreditation, certifications, labels... what is the difference ?

Accreditation and certification, what is the difference ?

While accreditation and certification are complementary and proceed according to the same methodology, they do not have the same objectives nor the same purpose. It is therefore important to distinguish between them.


Accreditation and certification: what are we talking about exactly ?

Accreditation concerns a certificate issued by a third party to a conformity assessment body (CAB). It constitutes formal recognition of the CAB's competence for conducting specific conformity assessment activities.

Certification refers to a certificate delivered by a third party relating to products, processes, systems or persons.

Accreditation and certification, therefore, do not operate at the same level. While the latter is delivered by inspection bodies that are commonly called certification bodies, the former is the remit of accreditation bodies, whose mission is to inspect the inspection bodies. Accreditation and certification therefore constitute two distinct links in the conformity assessment chain.

Two quite distinct approaches

Accreditation only concerns the companies that carry out inspection services, when they wish to have their technical competences in this regard formally recognised. It is therefore aimed at test and calibration laboratories, verification bodies, proficiency testing providers, producers of reference materials, biomedical laboratories, and inspection, certification or qualification bodies.

Accreditation does not apply to products, persons or facilities.

By contrast, certification is used to establish, with regard to specific requirements, the conformity of products and services (organic agriculture, "Label Rouge" quality assurance, NF, PEFC mark, etc.), management systems (ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 27001, etc.), or persons (auditors, property diagnosticians, etc.). All companies are therefore liable to call upon certification services.

Genuine complementarity

Let us consider an example to illustrate the complementarity of accreditation and certification. This is, moreover, why accreditation requires the involvement of both quality assessors and technical experts. 

The management system of a laboratory may be certified according to standard ISO 9001, but this certification only guarantees that this system is continuously improved. Accreditation, for its part, is aimed at recognising not only that the candidate is well-organised but also that it exercises its activity according to an ethical code and best practices that are internationally accepted.

This is, moreover, why accreditation requires the involvement of both quality assessors and experts in their particular technical field. 

Accreditation is only valid for a specific field of competence. Hence, an inspection body that is recognised as competent for inspecting lifting machinery will not necessarily be so for pressure devices. It may however apply for the global certification of its quality assurance system.

Accreditation therefore goes further by providing not only recognition of the conformity of the management system, but also recognition of the competence of the personnel - the men and women - of the site concerned. By contributing to the continuous improvement of inspections and the quality of the products and services released to the market, it underpins confidence.


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