Much has been spoken of the benefits enjoyed by a supplier and an end-user when products are ‘certified’ by a recognised authority and what that certification is meant to achieve.

Abe Stears, MD of South African Technical Auditing Services’ (SATAS). Image credit: JA Stears

Abe Stears, MD of South African Technical Auditing Services’ (SATAS). Image credit: JA Stears

These benefits are simply meant to be:

  • The supplier, through their ‘certification’ should consistently supply a product that complies with the requirements defined in the end-user’s purchase specification.
  • The end-user should be confident that the product supplied by a ‘certified’ supplier consistently complies with their purchase specification and no further quality control activities are required to demonstrate compliance.

In practical terms, there are a number of avenues a supplier and/or end-user may utilise to instil confidence levels in ensuring products are produced to specification. These ‘certified’ options include a SANAS Accredited Product Certification Scheme and then a whole host of ‘acceptance’ schemes which are generally administered by amongst others, joint associations, industrial associations, and non-governmental organisations. Unfortunately, all of these ‘acceptance’ schemes are generally not accredited by any accreditation body to a suitable and/or recognised standard.

For a better understanding of what end-users need to know about SANAS Accredited Product Certification, a brief outline is explained below.

For any product certification body to be accepted it is essential that the certification body is accredited to the stringent requirements defined in the ISO/IEC 17065:2012 Conformity Assessment: Requirements for bodies certifying products, processes and services document by an Accreditation Body duly recognised by the International Accreditation Forum (IAF).

The requirements defined in the ISO/IEC specification requires that the Certification Body document frequencies of surveillance which include factory audits, sampling regimes and subsequent testing of the sampled product. The ISO/IEC document unfortunately does not specify frequencies of audits / inspections / sampling / testing to be imposed on a certificate holder. Accredited Certification Bodies are then required to clearly define their desired frequencies of surveillance with those frequencies included in a contractual agreement between the two parties. Interestingly enough, most foreign-based Accredited Certification Bodies define an audit/sampling/test frequency of once per annum while South African Accredited Bodies generally specify multiple surveillance frequencies per annum. For example, SATAS (South African Technical Auditing Services) requires at least three surveillances per annum at the certificate holder, two of which are un-announced product inspections where samples are drawn and tested for compliance. To ensure unbiased test results with no possible conflict of interest, samples are submitted to independent third party SANAS accredited test facilities.

To demonstrate how a SANAS Accredited Certification Body should perform their mandates to both the certificate holder and the end-user, a recent and all too common case study handled by SATAS is explained below:

Case Study:

SATAS received an application for certification from a supplier of water conveyance products where compliance to SANS specifications is considered mandatory and moreover, certified by a SANAS Accredited Certification Body.

The application was that of a South African based company sourcing product directly from a nominated foreign manufacture.

The certification process includes a full assessment of the manufacturer’s documented quality system, production process and quality control systems. Random samples were selected for pre-certification evaluation and subjected to an independent SANAS Accredited test laboratory for full specification testing.

Certification was eventually granted after a period of 8 months as the rectification of product failures took a longer than expected period to solve.

In this specific instance the frequency of surveillance applicable to the certificate holder was that of one surveillance audit performed at the foreign manufacturing facility and a further two unannounced product inspections per year where inspection/sampling/test regimes are performed at the South African certificate holders premises.

The first product inspection was performed three months after date of certification with all the samples successfully achieving the requirements defined in the SANS standard.

Four months later a second unannounced product inspection was performed. However, in this instance one of the components of the product failed to achieve the specification requirements.

The certificate holder was immediately issued with non-conformance reports with urgent corrective actions required to address the deficiencies. Corrective actions included the immediate embargo of the batch of affected product.

In this specific instance there were two options available to address the product failure. Either to attempt to replace the failed component in South Africa (components would need to be retested for compliance prior to replacement); or reject and return the batch of product to the foreign manufacturer.

Discussions between the manufacturer and the certificate holder concluded that the most cost-effective option was to return the batch to the foreign manufacturer and replace with compliant product.

In view of the product failure, SATAS increased the frequency of product inspections to include the sampling and inspection of the next shipment received.

As seen above, an effectively managed SANAS Accredited Product Certification Scheme prevented a significant batch of non-compliant material from being distributed into the marketplace. Moreover, the corrective actions taken by both the foreign manufacturer and South African certificate holder to replace the rejected batch was of such a financial loss, both parties have increased their focus on the supply/receipt of compliant product.

Most other ‘acceptance’ schemes operating in South Africa require a once off compliant test report to demonstrate compliance with the specification before being placed onto an ‘approved suppliers list’. Continued ‘acceptance’ is generally granted every two years based on the supplier submitting a compliant test report before the expiry date. It is unfortunate that there are no requirements in place for the random selection, sampling, testing and eventual control of product that do not achieve specification requirements.

About Abe Stears                                                                                                                         

Abe Stears was born in Mossel Bay district and grew up on a plantation. After finishing his matric at the Outeniqua Highschool in George he went for his military training as all young men in those days had to do. He enrolled at the then Saasveld College and finished his studies in Plantation and Catchment Management in 1971. For 18 years he worked in the Department of Forestry in different locations in South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia). In 1989 he resigned and joined the SABS Timber Certification Division. After 14 years in Product Certification he left the services of the SABS to start the company ‘South African Technical Auditing Services’ (SATAS), the first privately-owned Product Certification Body in South Africa. He is active as MD of the company.