On 12 November, the IEC organized a networking session dedicated to conformity assessment (CA) in general and IECEx in particular. Participants from Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America joined the session hosted by IECEx and IECQ Executive Secretary Chris Agius.
IEC CA – which, together with standardization, is one of the pillars of the IEC – represents the only globally standardized approach to testing and certification, dedicated to the electrotechnical sectors. Risk and quality management by companies and governments would not be possible without reliable conformity assessment such as testing and certification.
Prior to answering questions and starting a discussion, Chris Agius spent a few minutes explaining conformity assessment (CA), a very broad term that encompasses many aspects related to assessing conformance, such as testing, certification, attestation, accreditation and approval. He drew attention to the ISO/IEC 17000 series of international standards that cover all aspects of conformity assessment and certification activities, encouraging anyone interested in learning about or getting involved in CA to start with terminology, in ISO/IEC 17000. Terminology is key to understand CA which is by no means limited to the certification community.
IEC CA Systems v. national accreditation
Asked how national accreditation fits in the IEC CA Systems, Chris explained that accreditation can be defined as the formal recognition of a body to be able to carry out certain tasks related to CA. There is a certain degree of consistency in the tasks performed by accreditation bodies throughout the world because they use the ISO/IEC 17000 series. However, variations in their approach is inevitable, meaning they may achieve the same results through different methods.
The IEC approach goes a step further, making it essential to have a standardized way of doing testing and certification: a single set of rules, operational procedures, reporting format, certification format that have to be accepted by all participating bodies. To ensure consistency, the IEC also embraces the concept of peer assessment. It is essential that all bodies accept one another through mutual recognition which is achieved by this peer assessment process. The IEC CA Systems comprises laboratories, inspection and certification bodies (CBs) whose work is based on the same peer assessment process. One of the requirements for acceptance in the IEC CA Systems is compliance with the ISO/IEC 17000 series of standards.
In IECEx, test labs and CBs have to be evaluated on an annual basis. However, if a body already holds accreditation, that may reduce the need to carry out a full and complete evaluation of the organization.
Developments in IECEx
Asked about new developments in IECEx, in addition to the certification of Ex electrical equipment, service facilities and personnel working in Ex environment, Chris mentioned the recent addition of non-electrical or mechanical equipment complying with the ISO/IEC 80079 series of standards. Certification of assemblies in compliance with IEC 60079-46 has also been added. IECEx has introduced a programme for organizations that provide training for workers in the Ex field.
Ajay Maira, from Australia, one of the participants in the session, a seasoned expert in Ex certification and an IECEx lead assessor, offered his view on how IECEx, since its inception in 1996, has changed the Ex landscape, going from a multitude of national certificates to one certificate accepted everywhere, regardless of national certification, thus facilitating international trade. Moreover, all products bearing the IECEx certificate are now in most cases automatically accepted as a backbone for national certification if required.
IECEx as a model for IECRE
Asked how IECEx could assist IECRE, the newest IEC CA System for renewable energies, Chris explained that IECEx went from mutual recognition to operating a full certificate and conformity scheme operating as a business. “Rather than promoting individual bodies, all bodies and the community came together to develop, build and promote the IECEx brand. My recommendation is for IECRE to work together, treat IECRE as a brand and promote it as a business.”
In addition, having all master certificates available on secure websites provides an additional value to the community because it also served as a buyers’ guide for products and services. This is of particular importance for IECEx and IECRE.
Wolfram Zeitz, IECEE and IECRE Executive Secretary, added that certificates are different for each system, due to the nature of the products that are certified. Within a system, all certificates are aligned on the same model and provide the same information. Certificates need to be easily identified as being part of the system, provide enough information so that the product is easily identified.
Raising the issue of questions or complaints regarding a certificate, Chris explained that they should be addressed to the certification body in the first place, but if the CB remains silent, the IECEx Secretariat will intervene and contact the CB.
Factory audit is a mandatory component and part of the certification process. Without it, certificates cannot be issued; and to keep the certificate current, ongoing factory audits must be conducted. How to perform factory audits online and evaluate the risks that this may entail is a question hugely relevant today as the world is facing a global health crisis.
Since the beginning of the year, travel restrictions have prevented auditors to visit factories. IECEx rapidly issued an interim measure, a business continuity document to address the concerns raised by the Covid-19 pandemic. The document included provisions for the use of remote auditing. As Chris said, “there are risks in conducting remote auditing, but the greater risk is to do nothing. Without ongoing factory audits, certificates would be suspended. The consequence is then that manufacturers cannot release products carrying the IECEx certificate reference number, leading to major financial repercussions. Careful planning is key to a successful remote audit.” Ajay Maira also shared his experience of performing remote audits. Both he and Chris agree that IECEx remote audits may be part of the factory auditing process in the future.
Chris concluded the session by thanking all participants in the session, as well as those following it on Facebook.
About the networking sessions
As part of its virtual 2020 General Meeting currently underway, the IEC is organizing moderated networking sessions on topics such as the circular economy, artificial intelligence, cyber security and 5G. These sessions can be viewed live on Facebook. The recordings are made available on Facebook and YouTube.