This article explains the concept of ISO standards in a practical way. After reading it, you will understand the basics of this powerful international concept for standardisation.
What are ISO standards?
ISO is the International Organisation for Standardisation, founded in 1947, that establishes standards for businesses and organisations in 163 countries worldwide. The international indication ISO is derived from the Greek word ‘equal’ and can be understood in all languages. On an international level, ISO often collaborates with IEC; the International Electrotechnical Commission. In the Netherlands, for example, the national body that manages the ISO standards is the NEN; the Netherlands Normalisation Institute.
ISO makes documents with required standards, specifications, guidelines or characteristics. These can consistently be used by companies and ensure that materials, products, processes and services are suitable for their purpose. Additionally, ISO ensures that these requirements are accepted in all connected countries, to ensure standardisation. With an ISO certification, companies show that their products, services or systems meet the agreed specifications. Additionally, the ISO standards support innovation and advance the worldwide quality, safety and reliability.
With an ISO certification and/or quality label, companies have the opportunity to demonstrate their reliability to their surroundings, such as purchasers, suppliers, business partners and government. Reliability is an abstract term and is expressed in quality, safety, environment and durability of products and/or services. Safety specifically, for instance, can refer to ICT and information security, food safety, aviation safety and health safety. With an ISO standard, companies demonstrate that they meet the requirements of international legislation and regulation and adhere to these. An ISO certificate also ensures a reduced risk of liability. Companies show that they are a serious player, which strengthens their competitive position. Particularly in the field of tendering, it’s important that companies have an ISO certificate. ISO can also be a requirement to be considered for orders by large contractors or from decentralised government and municipalities, for instance.
ISO standards have been established for varying sectors, each with their own specific number. The most popular ISO numbers are ISO 9001 for quality management and ISO 14001 for environmental management. ISO numbers are also available for more specific subjects. Think of food safety, information security and energy management systems. The most well-known numbers are described below:
ISO 9001 is considered to be one of the most widely known standards in the field of quality management. It focuses on turnover growth, demonstrable quality, higher customer satisfaction, efficiency, cost saving and adaptive ability in a changing market.
ISO 14001 is mainly focused on the social theme of environmental legislation. Moreover, ISO 14001 is more frequently becoming a condition for companies to do business with others. With this certification, companies demonstrate that they take their responsibility concerning the environment and that they meet environmental legislation that applies in the industry concerned.
The importance of information security must not be underestimated. A lack of information security has severe consequences. ISO 27001 helps companies to meet the increasingly stringent (European) privacy legislation. According to legislation, each organisation is obligated to handle personal data in a strictly confidential way. In doing so, they demonstrate to be a reliable collaboration partner. ISO 27001 helps companies in setting up a management system for information security (ISMS).
ISO 50001 is the international standard for energy management and offers insights into the energy consumption of companies. Additionally, it demonstrates how companies handle the reduction of their own energy consumption and constantly improving their energy performance. Each organisation that wishes to implement, maintain or improve an energy management system would do well to focus on an ISO 50001 certification. With this certification, companies can be exempted from energy audits in the framework of the government’s reduction objectives through the national interpretation of the EU Energy Efficiency Directive (EED).
From 1 to 55000
To get an overview of the various subjects on which ISO standards can take place, the various categories are listed below with an example of the wide range the certifications can be focused on:
- ISO 1 – 999 are the first certifications. They concern subjects ranging from textile to paper formats and source referencing to photo formats.
- ISO 1000 – 1999 are regarding geometric product specifications to pesticides and other agrochemicals.
- ISO 2000 – 2999 include matters from a hardness test for plastics to the international Standard Book Number (ISBW) that is mentioned on every book.
- ISO 3000 – 3999 contains country codes to safety colours and signs, for instance.
- ISO 4000 – 4999 in which the coin codes are included.
- ISO 5000 – 5999 ranging from the rules for scale division to the well-known ASA codes for photography and film.
- ISO 6000 – 6999 encompassing the hardness test for metallic materials, among other things.
- ISO 7000 – 7999 including the translation of the Chinese to the Latin alphabet.
- ISO 8000 – 8999 ranging from date and time indication to the coding of characters of languages.
- ISO 9000 – 9999 which include the classification of medical devices.
- ISO 20000 – 29999 with attention to things such as the procedures for registration of meta data to information about software quality.
- ISO 30000 – 39999 focus on the standardisation for risk management.
- ISO 55000 concerns management systems.
Advantages ISO Certification
For a lot of companies, the ISO certificate is an efficient tool. The fact that it concerns an international recognition offers the possibility to operate beyond national borders, which means that companies can come into contact with more clients. Moreover, an ISO certification offers a distinctive feature. Many clients prefer working with ISO-certified companies. In case of (international) tenders, it’s also inevitable to have an ISO predicate as an organisation. Without registration, it’s impossible or the entire product will become even more difficult.
Companies with an ISO label work on their image and communicate towards the rest of the world that they work in conformity with international standards. This shows their buyers and customers that they are doing business with a serious party and that they are assured that service and customer settlement are optimised.
How to become eligible?
To become eligible as a company for an ISO certification, a certification process must first be completed. In general, this process is supervised by a QHSE advisor, who focuses on Quality, Health, Safety and Environment. There are many companies that focus on QHSE specialisation and help organisations in the process of ISO certification. They are specialised in this and know which roads to take. A QHSE specialist prepares an organisation and pays attention to small details and recent changes in the ISO requirements.
To arrive at a maximum result, the organisation must be open to setting up a good quality management system and possibly improve this. Together with the organisation, the QHSE advisor looks at and maps the most important risks. In a joint audit plan, it is agreed which business elements will be scrutinised. Periodic audits are used to establish whether the organisation continues to meet the established standard and is still ISO worthy.
Now it’s your turn
What do you think? Do you recognize the practical explanation of ISO standards or do you have more additions? Does your organisation hold any ISO certifications? What are the advantages of these ISO standards according to you?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Abran, A., Khelifi, A., Suryn, W., & Seffah, A. (2003). Usability meanings and interpretations in ISO standards. Software quality journal, 11(4), 325-338.
- Morikawa, M., & Morrison, J. (2004). Who Develops ISO Standards?. A survey of participation in ISO’s international standards development processes.[Online] October.
- Romano, P. (2000). ISO 9000: what is its impact on performance?. Quality Management Journal, 7(3), 38-56.
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