Every year, hundreds of Canadian experts volunteer their time and their valuable knowledge on ISO committees to develop and review voluntary standards. These volunteers are some of our country’s top scientists, engineers, technologists and standardization professionals. Their commitment helps promote trade, stimulate our economies, and protect the health and safety of citizens here in Canada and around the world.
Chantal Guay, Vice-President of the Standards Council of Canada’s (SCC) Accreditation Services, is one of many SCC staff members who sit on ISO and IEC committees. Guay explains her role as the Canadian representative on the review committee for ISO/IEC 17011 Conformity Assessment: General requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting assessment bodies and why it’s important for Canadians to be involved in revising international standards, reinforcing their importance in strengthening our country’s economy and protecting our citizens.
Q: What is ISO/IEC 17011?
Basically, it is the standard that guides the work that accreditation bodies around the world—such as SCC—do. It is also the standard we are peer evaluated against. So our peers, other accreditation bodies, must visit SCC every four years to make sure we are compliant with ISO/IEC 17011.
The standard was last published in 2004 and the committee I sit on was set up to ensure the requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting assessment bodies are appropriate and effective.
Q: Canadians often don’t understand how standards and accreditation impact them. What role do standards play in our everyday lives here in Canada?
Well, I like to use the example of a hair dryer—something many of us use every day. A hair dryer has an electrical component. And as we all know, electricity can be dangerous.
To ensure that hair dryers used in Canada are safe, standards for electrical safety have been adopted by Canadian regulators and must be complied with by manufacturers. Moreover, when someone wants to manufacture and then ship a hair dryer to Canada that hair dryer needs to be certified to be compliant to the Canadian standard. This certification is done by a third-party certification body accredited by SCC. This ensures that the hair dryer is designed and manufactured properly and is safe for Canadians.
Many products that could affect the safety or security of Canadians need to go through a similar process of being certified by a SCC-accredited certification body in areas such as: electrical safety, plumbing safety, drinking water safety, fire safety, gas safety, building product safety. And the list goes on.
Making sure that products and equipment are safe to use is the foundation of the quality system in Canada. ISO/IEC 17011 is a key part of this.
Q: What role are you playing in the review of this standard?
I am just one member of what is a rather large committee of about 65 experts from around the world. Typically, when it is time to review a standard a request is sent out asking for countries interested in being part of the review committee to provide experts.
Once the committee is formed, there are various paths to take, mainly in terms of the timeframe. You have to decide if you want to finish the process in two or three years. You also have to agree on what format to adopt. The format of standards has changed since ISO/IEC 17011 was created, so the committee will look at the new format ISO is suggesting and conform to it. Once this is done, the real work begins.
We need to ask ourselves some really key questions such as what have we learned in the past five or 10 years from using ISO/IEC 17011? How have our practices changed due to the changing work environment and global markets? What new technologies are available that we should consider? How should these changes and lessons learned be reflected in the revised standard?
Q: Why do you think that review committees such as this one are necessary?
It is really about staying current. The standard is more than 10 years old. Practices have changed, and technology has changed how we do or can do things. For example, a lot of the work we used to do as an accreditation body used to happen in person, on-site. Now, new technologies, such as remote auditing, have opened up new possibilities and new ways of doing things. Everything is digital now. Everything is accessible in databases or in the cloud. Our standards need to reflect these changes and new possibilities
Also, by the time a standard is up for review we have often lived with it for five or 10 years, and we have learned a lot during that time. Over that period of time, we have also agreed on particular interpretations of the standard and if we want accreditation bodies around the world to be more consistent, we need to integrate those interpretations into the standard.
Q: How important do you think it is to have a Canadian presence on committees such as this one?
It really is critical, especially with a standard such as this one because it is a governing standard. If this is the document that speaks to how accreditation should be done in Canada, I think it is essential that Canadians are involved in reviewing it so that the Canadian perspective can be considered.
If we have a particular point of view, if we have a particular direction we would like these standards to take, we need to be at the table to voice our opinion. We must be present and contribute to the development of standards if we want to ensure they meet Canadian requirements and objectives, as well as the rest of the world. We must be standards makers, not just standards takers; the way to do this is by participating.
With this particular standard, making sure the Canadian voice is heard is even more important because conformity assessment and accreditation is one of the essential pieces of the quality system in Canada. The safety of products in Canada is largely based on certification and accreditation, so this really is a key standard.
Q: What do you feel you have been able to bring to the table as a committee member?
As an engineer who has been with SCC for almost 3 years, I believe that I bring a fresh set of eyes to the committee. Being somewhat new to the world of accreditation, I feel my role is to listen to the other committee members and bring a new perspective to the table. My role is also to look at things in terms of the value they can bring to Canada, as well as to our customers whom we accredit.
But this committee also gives me a chance to better understand the priorities of accreditation bodies in other countries. It’s interesting to hear where the other committee members are coming from and to better understand why they are taking certain positions and what the context is. I think it really broadens my perspective and understanding of the world of accreditation.
Q: Where does the review of ISO/IEC 17011 stand now?
It’s still in the early stages. The committee has agreed to a process that will take us from first reading of the committee, to approval of the standard within three years. So we will be working on this for a couple more years to come. We are hoping to have the first document ready for comment in early summer 2015.
ISO/IEC 17025 General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories is also undergoing a review. The working group includes representatives from testing laboratories, calibration laboratories, accreditation bodies, and standards bodies. The Canadian representatives are Georgette Macdonald, National Research Council (NRC) and Colleen Cotter, CALA. The group met for the first time early in February 2015 and will meet again this summer. A Committee Draft (CD) is expected to be available for stakeholder comment in September.
SCC is always looking for new members to participate in the development of standards. Learn more about current opportunities to join committees.