Ten Years On
April 30, 2014
The 10th anniversary of Poland’s entry to the European Union this year coincides with the 10th anniversary of the Polish Centre for Accreditation (PCA) signing a multilateral agreement within the framework of the European co-operation for Accreditation (EA MLA).
The 10 years since Poland became a member of the European Union have been a time of intensive change and adjustment in many areas of social and economic life. EU entry was an event of great significance for the Polish Centre for Accreditation (PCA) and especially for the organizations it has accredited as the free movement of goods and services became possible in 2004, says Eugeniusz W. Roguski, director of the PCA.
The accreditation system in Europe and beyond – the equivalence of foreign and Polish certificates
The free movement of goods and services is now one of the factors boosting economic growth in Europe and elsewhere. This has become possible thanks to the international regulations and standards that make up a single conformity assessment system and contribute to removing technical barriers to trade. Removing barriers, making the international exchange of goods easier and preventing threats posed by products to human health and to the environment are the main objectives of the conformity assessment system, in accordance with Regulation (EC) no. 765/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of July 9, 2008, setting out the requirements for accreditation and market surveillance related to the marketing of products and repealing Regulation (EEC) no. 339/93. The system is based on national and international regulations setting out the framework for the monitoring of the market for products and services so as to protect public interests such as food safety, healthcare, health and safety at work and home, environmental protection and many other spheres of life. Accredited conformity assessment bodies—including certification and inspection bodies and laboratories—are increasingly involved in activities related to public security in the broad sense of the word. Activity in this area requires specific competencies while accreditation is the best way to confirm these.
The accreditation rules are contained in international standards and guidelines, which define requirements for accreditation bodies and conformity assessment bodies subject to accreditation. Accreditation is a tool used to ensure the reliability of services provided by accredited organizations. It involves the assessment of resources, the management methods and the competencies of the whole staff of organizations dealing with conformity assessment. An accreditation certificate means that an independent, impartial and authorized accreditation body has confirmed that the holder of the certificate has the permanent ability to conduct conformity assessment in a competent manner.
In Poland, accreditation is handled by the Polish Centre for Accreditation, which is authorized to do so under the law on the conformity assessment system as the only Polish accreditation body under Regulation (EC) no. 765/2008. Since 2001, that is since its inception, the Polish Centre for Accreditation has been a full member of international associations of accreditation bodies: the European co-operation for Accreditation (EA), the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), and International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC). The Polish Centre for Accreditation is also a member of the Forum for Accreditation and Licensing Bodies (FALB), a European organization of accreditation bodies dealing with the accreditation of EMAS verifiers.
Acting locally, thinking globally
The accreditation system applied by the Polish Centre for Accreditation is an integral part of the global system for conformity assessment and market surveillance. The accreditation system contributes to strengthening confidence in the competencies of conformity assessment bodies and consequently the certificates and test reports they issue. This concerns both mandatory and voluntary areas. In the first case, it is the state authorities that impose the accreditation requirement on organizations conducting conformity assessment. In the second case, the need to confirm the competence of organizations assessing conformity arises from economic relations and the rules of competition. In both cases, accreditation brings about a number of benefits because it is an objective and impartial confirmation of the competencies of the organization offering conformity assessment services. The European and global conformity assessment system is based on multilateral agreements (MLA) within the framework of the EA, IAF and ILAC.
The multilateral agreements among the accreditation bodies which are members of these organizations contribute to building mutual confidence in accredited certification, inspection, calibration and testing procedures. The agreements mean that it is not necessary to certify products and services or conduct tests and calibration in each country where the products and services are sold or provided. Each EA member who is a signatory of EA MLA is subject to regular and detailed peer evaluation. The objective of this evaluation is to check whether the signatories operate in compliance with international criteria—the ISO/IEC 17011 standard and relevant guidelines. The evaluations ensure coherent and harmonized accreditation and make it easier for the signatories to share information and experience.
A multilateral agreement signed as part of the EA makes it easier to access EU markets, while signing an agreement under the ILAC and IAF enables access to markets around the world. Under agreements signed by the EA, IAF and ILAC, evaluations of accreditation bodies are conducted only within a regional group, that is the EA, while the results are accepted by the IAF and ILAC.
The Polish Centre for Accreditation started preparations for signing multilateral agreements as early as 2001. Consequently, following a detailed assessment by EA evaluators, the Polish Centre for Accreditation in 2004 signed an EA Multilateral Agreement for the accreditation of testing and calibration laboratories, inspection bodies and organizations certifying management systems, products and persons. In 2005, the PCA signed the IAF MLA (IAF Multilateral Recognition arrangement) for the accreditation of organizations certifying quality management systems, environmental management systems and products, and the ILAC MRA (ILAC Mutual recognition arrangement) for the accreditation of testing and calibration laboratories.
Conformity assessments conducted by organizations accredited by the signatories of the agreements are reliable and accepted on the European market and globally. The agreements aim to enable a free flow of accredited conformity assessment results in Europe and worldwide. The agreements are based on the process of peer evaluation designed to ensure that all the signatories run accreditation systems in an equivalent and competent manner and in compliance with international criteria: the ISO/IEC 17011 standard, Regulation (EC) no. 765/2008 and relevant guidelines. It is assumed that the conformity assessment bodies accredited by a recognized national accreditation organization—a signatory of the multilateral agreements—also meet the requirements of appropriate standards when conducting activities within the scope of the accreditation.
Thanks to the EA MLA agreement and under Regulation (EC) no. 765/2008, accreditation certificates issued by the Polish Centre for accreditation and certificates and reports issued by organizations accredited by the Polish Centre for Accreditation are recognized throughout the EU. And thanks to the IAF MLA and ILAC MRA, they are recognized around the world. In practice, this means avoiding multiple accreditations and consequently a reduction in costs involved in the process of seeking and maintaining accreditation. As a full member of the EA, IAF and ILAC and a signatory of the multilateral agreements, the Polish Centre for Accreditation takes an active part in the work of committees and working groups operating within these associations. The Polish Centre for accreditation takes part in the work of the EA Multilateral Agreement Council (EA MAC), EA Laboratory Committee (EA LC), EA Inspection Committee (EA IC), EA Certification Committee (EA CC) and EA Communications and Publications Committee (EA CPC), as well as the IAF Technical Committee (IAF TC) and the ILAC Accreditation Issues Committee (ILAC AIC). The committees’ goal is to work out common procedures and guidelines for the accreditation of laboratories and certification and inspection bodies, set out common policies and work out practices for peer evaluation, promote accreditation as a tool facilitating trade and support the development of accreditation systems.