According to NIST, The terms “accreditation” and “certification” are sometimes used interchangeably, however, they are not synonymous. Certification is used for verifying that personnel have adequate credentials to practice certain disciplines, as well as for verifying that products meet certain requirements. Accreditation is used to verify that laboratories have an appropriate quality management system and can properly perform certain test methods (e.g., ANSI, ASTM, and ISO test methods) and calibration parameters according to their scopes of accreditation. Accreditation covers both the management system of a laboratory and the technical capabilities of a laboratory. The assessment of laboratories is performed to check compliance with the requirements to regulatory bodies. Upon satisfactory assessment and successful completion of proficiency testing (where applicable), the laboratory is issued a Certificate of Accreditation along with a Scope of Accreditation listing the test methods or calibration parameters that the laboratory is accredited to perform.

What is Accreditation?
Accreditation is a voluntary process in which an agency is evaluated for compliance against a certain set of established criteria. In general terms, accreditation is an attestation by a third party that an agency has demonstrated competence to carry out certain duties and tasks. In the case of American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Accreditation, accredited labs must meet the requirements of AASHTO R 18, the criteria outlined in the Procedures Manual for Accreditation of Construction Materials Testing Laboratories. Laboratories may choose to add specific AASHTO and ASTM test methods to the scope of their accreditation, as well as additional quality system requirements as defined by ASTM standards or ISO/IEC 17025. Obtaining AASHTO Accreditation makes a statement about a laboratory’s continued commitment to excellence and is an attestation that the agency is competent to perform the laboratory testing for which they are accredited.

Accreditation requires ongoing compliance with the established accreditation criteria, which, in the case of laboratory accreditation, is accomplished through regularly scheduled on-site assessments of the agency and participation in a proficiency testing program. While accreditation in a voluntary process, many agencies require laboratories to be accredited in order to do testing work for them and to submit bids on project work. The AASHTO Accreditation Program is the most widely recognized and accepted accreditation program for construction materials testing laboratories in the United States.

What is Certification?
The term certification is sometimes used synonymously with the term accreditation. However, the two terms have very different meanings. The two processes seem to be very similar, so it can be difficult to understand the differences. Certification, like accreditation, is a voluntary process. Certification provides written assurance that a person, product, or process conforms to specified requirements and standards. Certification, also like accreditation, is an attestation made by a third party. An example of a common certification within the construction materials testing industry is technician certification. Many ASTM quality system standards, such as D3740 and D3666, have technician certification requirements in them. In order for a laboratory to become accredited to these ASTM standards, they must have personnel that hold certifications that conform to the requirements outlined in these standards. Product certification programs are also common, and these kinds of programs provide attestation that a product is manufactured using a specified process or has met certain criteria when subjected to laboratory testing (which, coincidentally, is often times performed by an accredited laboratory). Certification is commonly associated with ISO 9001, which is an internationally recognized standard for Quality Management Systems (QMS). Accreditation is generally considered to be a higher level of recognition than certification. In fact, it is common for certification bodies to hold some kind of accreditation as an attestation to their competency to perform their duties in the field of certification.

Scope of Accreditation / Certification

Organizations may be certified to a quality system standard within very broad industry or product categories. Naturally, organizations with a very narrow product range are certified in these terms. Laboratories, on the other hand, are accredited for quite specific tests of measurements, usually with specified ranges of measurement with associated information on uncertainty of measurement, and for particular products and test specifications. Accreditation bodies encourage laboratories to endorse test reports in the name of the accreditation body to make a public statement that the particular test data presented has been produced by a laboratory which has demonstrated to a third party that it is competent to perform such tests. The ISO 9000 series of standards are not intended to be used in this way. They address the quality system, not specific technical capability. The use of a quality system certification body’s logo should not be used as a certification mark or endorsement as to the conformity of a particular product with its specified requirements. Similarly, it should not be used to endorse the competent performance of tests, calibrations or measurements reported by laboratories. Only a logo or endorsement showing accreditation to Guide 25 or equivalent for specific calibrations or tests denotes technical credibility and an expectation of valid results. Laboratories certified to ISO 9000 cannot make the same claim.

Thank you for your time, our next post will take this further and we will be looking at; The Special Role of Accredited Calibration Laboratories, Need for Accreditation and Regulatory Body for Environmental Laboratories in Nigeria in our next blog post (part 2). Till then stay safe.

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Abdul Hakeem Owolabi

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