The United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) is the sole National Accreditation Body for the United Kingdom. UKAS is recognised by the government to assess against internationally agreed standards, organisations that provide certification, testing, inspection and calibration services. But how does UKAS demonstrate its own conformity and competence?
UKAS is a member at an international level of the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC). At a regional level, it remains an integral member of the European Co-operation for Accreditation (EA). Membership of these bodies underpins a number of multi-lateral agreements (MLAs) and mutual recognition agreements (MRAs) whereby economies around the globe accept the accreditation of products and services that have been conferred by other accreditation bodies.
The MLAs / MRAs are dependent upon being successfully evaluated by peers from other accreditation bodies which involves review by a team of peers, generally senior staff of experienced recognised regional cooperation accreditation bodies. Each accreditation body with signatory status commits to maintaining conformity with the current version of ISO/IEC 17011 (Conformity assessment – General requirements for bodies providing assessment and accreditation of conformity assessment bodies) and supplementary requirements documents.
EA peer evaluators are highly qualified and experienced National Accreditation Body staff members. They attend regular training programs in order to maintain their evaluator competence and support the necessary development of EA peer-evaluation activities, including the evolution of standards and regulations. Performance of EA evaluators is monitored by the Secretariat on a continuous basis.
The main objectives of peer-evaluation activities are to ensure that regulators, stakeholders and the business community have confidence in the certificates and reports issued by accredited Conformity Assessment Bodies under the EA MLA.
National Accreditation Bodies are evaluated for ongoing compliance against Regulation (EC) No 765/2008 (or equivalent), the international standard EN ISO/IEC 17011, and other relevant standards and related criteria such as application documents from EA, ILAC or IAF, and applicable criteria on behalf of European or National Regulators and industrial schemes. The MLA process is overseen by the European Commission, the EA Advisory Board and national authorities.
Evaluations include time spent at the office of the accreditation body to determine compliance with ISO/IEC 17011 and other relevant requirements. Additionally, the evaluators witness the performance of the accreditation body’s assessors during actual assessments/reassessments to determine if the laboratories, inspection bodies, proficiency testing providers and reference material producers are in compliance with ISO/IEC 17025 or ISO 15189 or ISO/IEC 17020 or ISO/IEC 17043 or ISO 17034 and that there is sufficient depth of examination to determine competence.
Global recognition is a result of EA being regularly peer evaluated by its colleagues, IAF and ILAC peer evaluators.
In May 2021, UKAS was the subject of just such a peer evaluation, conducted by EA. Following an intense week of peer evaluation by a team of 13 EA colleagues, UKAS received a positive recommendation to renew its EA MLA status. As with any other organisation undergoing such scrutiny, UKAS received a number of nonconformities, but none were of a significant nature or appear to identify any systematic risks within its systems. They have, together with several comments, raised the opportunity for improvements.
The Summary Report from the assessment team stated:
The evaluation team was impressed with the expertise of staff and the data management system quality and capabilities, UKAS’ staff knowledge of and adherence to procedures and reference documents; assessor monitoring records; strategic vision and drive; strength of the decision-making process, and also a good and complete coverage of the accreditation scopes was also appreciated. Top management is actively involved in operations and can rely on consistent data provided by the operations to take informed decisions and with an excellent and open sharing of the knowledge, supported by a comprehensive management system.