Written by Eamonn Ryan
A sample of Omega’s testing equipment.
“Compliance to a standard means 100% compliance – 90% is not enough, because a standard is a set of minimum requirements. A test report simply notes that the product design submitted complies – it is not a license to manufacture, as it says nothing about the manufacturing process, which has to be able to reproduce that product to the same standard time after time. The submission of a ‘golden sample’ for design testing is not necessarily wrong, because it confirms only the design and says nothing about the ability of the factory to continually reproduce the compliant design,” says Herman Strauss, executive director of SA Watermark. Users must beware that a test report does not mean that a product complies with the standard.
“Certification is the ‘ultimate’ because it verifies the ongoing manufacturing process. Certification consists of a process of drawing random samples over time and checking that it conforms to the original or golden sample. It also looks at the quality control system of the manufacturer, which itself governs consistency,” he added.
Only then can a manufacturer stamp his product with the certification body’s logo to say the product on sale meets the standard, and the consumer can rely on that assurance. What that stamp signifies is that there are reasonable steps in place to ensure that, in all likelihood, that product is the same and everything which comes off that production line will always comply.
Certification bodies can choose how long their certification permits would be valid for. Internationally, there are two practices: “The traditional method employed by many companies to this day is that the certification is perpetual; as long as the manufacturer continues to comply with the rules governing the certification process. These rules will include regular factory audits and random tests on samples. A second tendency that is relatively new is for the certification to last a defined period, such as three or five years, and after that you have to re-apply,” explains Strauss. This implies that instead of ongoing random testing, when the certificate expires, the full test and factory audit has to be redone for the next period. The rules governing certification are documented in the international standard ISO 17065. This standard does not prescribe for how long the certification permit should be valid, it confirms that this period is the decision of the certification body.
Every company which offers certification can also offer their registered trademark logo to be stamped on the product (like the highly recognised SABS stamp). Strauss says that whether such a stamp is as recognisable by plumbers as the SABS stamp is entirely up to the certification body to promote in order to gain market trust through credibility.
The Accreditation Act established SANAS as the South African representative of ILAC (International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation). This Act indicates that while accreditation by SANAS is not a requirement, it is recommended and promoted. This means a testing laboratory can test without being SANAS accredited. The accreditation process is thorough, and a laboratory can only be accredited once it has been in operation some time. Strauss likens this to a ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma – “How does a laboratory get work if it is not accredited?” This raises the barrier to entry, as the owner has to effectively deliver free work to gain the required experience.
It was for these reasons that the plumbing industry came together and formed the SA Watermark, which is a register of products that have been tested or certified. The SA Watermark does not do testing or certification. However, it will verify the testing or certification status of a product before registering it on the SA Watermark register of products. This system respects manufacturers’ freedom of choice to choose which test or certification body they would like to make use of. This freedom of choice extends to international bodies. “The national legislation allows for this freedom of choice and the SA Watermark provides a platform for manufacturers to exercise their freedom of choice in a responsible manner,” explains Strauss.