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Intercontinental Terminal Company (ITC) has just extinguished a massive chemical fire at its Deer Park TX tank farm, where holding tanks filled with petroleum and other volatile chemicals burned benzene into the atmosphere, triggering a large-scale environmental health concern. At the same time, ITC holds an ISO 9001:2015 quality system certificate issued by ABS-QE for the scope of “bulk liquid receipt, storage and delivery.” The address indicated on the certificate is the same as that which burst into flames.
The certificate was signed by ABS-QE President Alex Weisselberg, and is accredited by ANAB.
ITC holds a second certificate, also issued by ABS-QE, for the “Responsible Care” standard RC14001, also accredited by ANAB. The RC14001 standard was developed by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), who markets the certification as providing a “structured approach to improve company performance in the following key areas: community awareness and emergency response; security; distribution; employee health and safety; pollution prevention; and process and product safety.”
The ISO 9001 and RC14001 audits conducted by ABS-QE should have ascertained assurances that ITC had the capability to reliably and consistently perform the services indicated by the scope of the certificate, including chemical storage.
The fire is now out, with 9 of 15 tanks destroyed. Local EPA officials have implemented a “shelter-in-place” order for residents, forcing them to remain indoors with air conditioners turned off, and wet towels covering the cracks in their doors to prevent toxic benzene from seeping inside.
ABS-QE had previously certified the work done by Hercules Offshore, a company found responsible for an oil rig blowout protector failure similar to that which caused the Deepwater Horizon disaster. No lives were lost in that explosion, but 44 crew members were evacuated and the rig utterly destroyed. Hercules Offshore nevertheless maintained its ISO 9001 certificate even after the disaster, but the company was later liquidated in the fallout. That certificate was also accredited by ANAB.
ANAB’s logo was also found on the certificate for the BP Oil management company responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster; that certificate was issued by the certification body BSI. That explosion killed 11 rig workers and caused the largest man-made environmental crisis in human history.
The plant of Kuraray EVAL in exploded killing 22 workers; that company held ISO 9001 certification issued by DNV-GL, also accredited by ANAB.
ANAB is tasked with auditing “certification bodies” such as ABS-QE and DNV-GL, and then accrediting them, so as to give authority to the resulting certificates. ANAB is then supposed to oversee such bodies to ensure they only issue certificates to companies who comply with the requirements of the standard named on the certificate. Despite this, ANAB has routinely found its logo on certificates issued to companies who were late found to have violated not only those standards, but also applicable laws. The ANAB relationship has been criticized as a “pay to play” scheme, in that companies such as ABS-QE pay ANAB for the accreditation mark, allegedly to grant authority to the certificates, which then disincentivizes ANAB to hold such companies responsible. When ANAB de-accredits a certification body, it risks losing the revenue from that body.
Officials from certification bodies and ANAB are never questioned in subsequent investigations, despite their audits granting them unprecedented access to the certified company’s records, procedures, personnel and methods.
ISO and the auditing bodies insist that such certificates are not a guarantee of quality or safety; however, this position contradicts the literal language appearing on the official certificates, as well as that of the marketing by ISO and the certified companies themselves.
The fact that the company had an ISO 9001 certificate is no guarantee that an accident won’t happen. The certificate simply confirms that the QMS in place meets the requirements of ISO 9001 for ” bulk liquid receipt, storage and delivery ” of certain volatile chemicals. ISO certification/registration isn’t magic; accidents and mistakes will happen. Somebody at ITC obviously ‘screwed-up’ and that certainly isn’t the fault of the CB.
It’s NEVER the fault of the CB. They are all covered by magic spells that repel all culpability. Everyone knows this.
Funny how when a CB writes a nonconformity during a client audit, they reject any response such as “accidents will happen” or “someone screwed up.” But when the shoe is on the other foot, they trot out that excuse pretty quickly. Sure, it’s ITC’s human error, not ABS-QE. Magical elves can’t make human errors, because they’re not human!
This excuse never explains how, then, the companies RETAIN their ISO certs after the disasters happen and people are already dead. You’d think it would trigger a special audit, but — magically! — that doesn’t happen.
The Registrar I have been working for over the past 18 years has a formal process in place to deal with complaints raised against companies we have registered. The process is quite detailed, contains provisions for ‘special audits’ , and their certificate of registration can be suspended.
Sure, every registrar HAS this “formal process” because ISO 17021-1 demands they have it. Doesn’t mean they use it. Without knowing which registrar you work for, I can’t prove or disprove it. But I can list off a host of registrars that have the same process nearly cut and pasted from each other, but they ignore it entirely.
If you don’t believe CBs copy each other’s policies then read this.
And of course citing a maybe-it-exists-maybe-it-doesn’t “process” doesn’t mean that the CB is obeying it.
Next is the issue of do we really have to WAIT for someone to raise a complaint? You’re saying the CB has no responsibility of their own? For example, SAI Global issued an AS9100 to Pratt Whitney. they held it for years. The US Dept of Defense does a formal audit, per AS9101 requirements, and found 41 MAJOR nonconformities against AS9100.
So I guess the SAI auditors just “missed” those for years, right? Well okay… let’s let you have that one. But when the DOD published its report and made it public, we are supposed to believe that SAI continued to “miss” the nonconformities, even after they were listed in the DOD report? Because SAI granted them another AS9100 cert the year after, and every year since.
United Launch Alliance was AS9100 certified, and the DOD uncovered 21 majors. Nevertheless, the year later, ULA still had its cert from NQA.
Ditto for Aerojet Rocketdyne, where the DOD found 15 major NCRs, and yet a year later they still had their AS9100 cert from Bureau Veritas.
So the CB is going to wait until someone formally complains or, maybe, a bunch of people get killed? But wait– that last point doesn’t matter, because even if people get killed, the CBs STILL don’t do a special audit.
How about Takata which sold defective airbags which killed people? (Certified by Intertek.) Or BP responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which also killed people? (Certified by BSI.) They didn’t have to rescind the cert because no one sent them an engraved invitation?
Or Nakayama Steel Works, which falsified steel data? (Certified by JICQA.) Or Korry Electronics, found to have violated ITAR over 170 times? (Certified by DNV-GL.) How much risk to the supply chain did that fiasco cause, but they’re still certified as you read this.
We’re supposed to believe this invisible “formal process” is working despite all the very VISIBLE evidence in front of us that says it isn’t? We’re supposed to ignore the evidence that proves CBs are issuing certs like water, then ignoring when their clients violate the standards they certified them to?