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What is accreditation? What you should know about accreditation

Accreditation means: creating confidence. That is exactly what accreditations do. A case of accreditation involves looking closely, undertaking a careful examination and making a responsible assessment as to whether others are capable of doing good work and have earned trust. Why? Because we all benefit from it.

Accreditation at a glance

In almost all areas of our daily lives, assessment services – so-called “conformity assessments” – play an important role, for example in the form of certifications, laboratory tests or inspections. But can we give credence to the certificates, test reports or findings they produce?

Confidence in the results of these assessment services hinges on the credibility and technical ability of the people who provide these services: conformity assessment bodies. These stakeholders in the private and public sectors therefore have the quality of their own work verified in an accreditation procedure.

Accreditation: verifying the verifiers

Accreditations are used to assess and regularly monitor the technical competence, reliability, independence and integrity of conformity assessment bodies in the public interest. This is done through a process of transparent and impartial assessment by a national accreditation body, which acts as a regulatory authority on behalf of the state. In Germany, this role is assumed by DAkkS.

The interaction between accreditation and conformity assessment ensures that we can count on products, processes and services because the required levels of quality and protection have been “put under the microscope” by competent stakeholders.

So what is accreditation? In a nutshell: Accreditation is the state verification of the verifiers.

Accreditation is “an attestation by a national accreditation body that a conformity assessment body meets the requirements set by harmonised standards and, where applicable, any additional requirements […] to carry out a specific conformity assessment activity.”

Definition of accreditation as set out in Regulation (EC) No 765/2008

What is conformity assessment?

In many areas of the economy and public services, tests, inspections, calibrations or certifications are of great importance. The focus of these assessment services is on the question of whether the products, processes, services or systems examined are reliable in terms of their quality and safety.

This involves verifying whether the requirements of relevant laws, standards or other requirements are met – in other words, whether they are in conformity with them, which is why these activities are also referred to as conformity assessments.

The areas of application of these objective inspections are very varied, ranging for example from environmental protection and food safety to the electrical industry or public health. But conformity assessments also play an important role in areas such as renewable energy, medical laboratory diagnostics, sustainable supply chains or data protection.

Which Types of conformity assessment can be accredited?

Objectives and benefits of accreditation

Because the worldwide system of accreditation is based on uniform international standards, and therefore on objectively verifiable quality standards, accredited conformity assessments are comparable and create mutual trust.

DAkkS accreditations are recognised internationally on the basis of agreements and reciprocity treaties – as are the certificates and reports issued by accredited bodies within their respective scopes. This approach removes barriers to trade and its importance in terms of the export economy can scarcely be underestimated.

Manufacturers or suppliers need their accredited conformity assessments in order to gain access to regulated markets, to place goods on the market or to limit liability for product risks by demonstrating conformity with the relevant requirements. For example, the CE mark can be awarded in certain areas on the basis of an accredited conformity assessment.

And not least of course: accreditations make our everyday lives safer, because behind the accredited verifiers of products and services, there is another state inspection authority.

Learn more here about the benefits of accreditation

Differences between certification and accreditation

Certifications and accreditations play key roles in the quality infrastructure. These roles are however clearly demarcated:

For a certification, a certification body assesses whether products, services, systems or people conform to relevant requirements. Certification is one of the various types of conformity assessment.

An accreditation, on the other hand, is the confirmation of the technical competence of a conformity assessment body – for example a certification service provider – to carry out certain activities, and is reserved for the state alone.

Accreditation and granting of authority

In many sectors, conformity assessment bodies use the instrument of accreditation on a voluntary basis to indicate the quality and reliability of their own work to market participants.

In some sensitive areas, however, such as health, consumer and environmental protection or safety engineering and food safety, the regulators have established accreditation as a prerequisite for conformity assessment activities.

In these cases, too, the focus of accreditation is on assessing technical competence, impartiality and independence (“technical ability”). However, accreditation in this area is also a prerequisite for a second step: the granting of authority by a competent regulator to act as a conformity assessment body in a defined area (“legal permission”).

In many cases of accreditation, “power-conferring authorities” are therefore also involved in the process. Depending on the sector, these authorisations are also called “approval” or “recognition”.

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