The international certification body URS Holdings has invented a “creative” justification for why it violated ISO 17021 and issued a quality management certificate to one of its competitors in Russia.

As reported previously, URS was found to have issued an ISO 9001 certificate to Russian Register (RR), a competing CB. URS is accredited to ISO 17021, which specifically prohibits this practice. Clause 5.2.4 of that standard reads:

A certification body shall not certify another certification body for its quality management system.

Oxebridge filed a complaint with URS, and the registrar has now responded.  Signed by URS Regulatory Affairs Director Kristel Pitcher, URS has claimed that the certificate issued to RR was “indeed valid” based on the scope of RR’s quality management system.

Given the Scope poses NO conflict of interest as activities are outside that of the URS Group services offered, i.e. Accreditation under ISO 17021. We believe this Certification does not pose a conflict and is not contrary to the intent of the Clause. If we were certifying a Certification Body or Organisation that offered the services, we do under the 17021 Accreditation, we would accept the complaint and expect it to be upheld.

The ISO 17021 standard prohibits the practice of one CB certifying the quality system of another entirely, and does not allow the issuing CB to justify doing so based on the “scope” of the recipient CB.

Oxebridge founder Christopher Paris claimed the URS response was “creative.” Accredited CBs are required to adhere to the ISO 17201 rules, and not invent justifications for why they violate them.

The practice of a CB violating the accreditation rules, and then inventing a non-existent justification after being caught, is not new. Multiple CBs operating under the accreditation body IAS were found to be quoting “low-bid” ISO 9001 audits without the sufficient required audit days. In response to complaints, the CBs and IAS claimed that the ISO 17021 rules on scheduling audits only applied after a certificate was issued, giving a green light to CBs worldwide to ignore accreditation rules entirely.

In the certification scheme for aerospace quality system audits, an AS9100 Lead Auditor was found to have lied when he claimed he was a “Director” with a PCC Aerostructures company. The auditor was in fact unemployed, and never held a “director” position. Despite rules prohibiting this, the SAE and IAQG oversight bodies ruled that an auditor could lie about his professional credentials provided he did so after obtaining Lead Auditor status, and not before.

Despite a clear rule prohibiting CBs from promoting consultants, the accreditation bodies have overwhelmingly allowed the practice. Multiple CBs, including BSI, NQA, NSF-IRS, ISOQAR and others continue to list “approved consultant” registries in violation of the ISO 17021 standard.

The URS response was marked “confidential,” a common tactic used by CBs to prevent the public from peering behind the curtain of their activities. In fact, however, the URS email contains no confidential information, no files or records, nor any evidence to support its decision; it does not even mention the name the recipient CB, Russian Register. The quoted scope included in the response is a public record.

The URS scandal now moves to an appeal filed with its accreditation body, UKAS.

Oxebridge expects UKAS to side with URS and allow the violations to stand. CBs like URS pay annual fees to UKAS, thus reducing its incentive to enforce accreditation rules. Oxebridge is already preparing actions to take against UKAS if this comes to pass. [See update below.]

The full complaint against URS can be downloaded here.

URS’ full response can be read here.


UPDATE 11 November 2020: Unprompted by Oxebridge, UKAS has opened an investigation into URS’ response within its own formal complaints processing system. Oxebridge subsequently thanked UKAS for taking a “proactive” position on the issue. The move comes as Oxebridge has reached out to Sarah Smith, the Deputy Director for Regulatory Delivery at UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills, regarding means of forcing UKAS to comply with its obligations under UK law. Smith signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UKAS CEO Matt Gantley enshrining UKAS’ role as sole accreditation body for the United Kingdom, and binding UKAS to follow EU and UK regulations, as well as ISO 17011. It’s not clear if the UKAS posture in the URS case was prompted by that contact or simply coincidental. Oxebridge will continue to file a formal escalation to UKAS, if only to maintain a formal record.

UPDATE 13 November 2020: Oxebridge has filed its formal escalation of the complaint to UKAS. That filing can be read here.

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