Is there a significant difference between the terms “responsibility” and “liability” as used in ISO/IEC 17020?

STANDARD: ISO/IEC 17020  ·  CLAUSE: 6.3.3  ·  TOPIC: Taking responsibility for determination of conformity 


According to clause 6.3.3 of ISO/IEC 17020:2012 the inspection body is required to take responsibility for any determination of conformity. This clause does not require the inspection body to take any liability for any determination of conformity made by the inspection body. However, it is possible that any contractual conditions agreed between the parties refer to liabilities arising from its inspection activities. The term ‘liabilities’ is used in ISO 17020:2012 in clause 5.1.4 only. The word liability can only be understood when related to the legal and contractual system in which the inspection body operates. If an organization is “liable” for something it can be legally required to pay for the consequences. This is completely different from “responsibility” which does not refer to any legal obligation to pay for the consequences. The concept of responsibility is referenced many times in ISO/IEC 17020 and refers to the person or organization that has a duty to perform. So, for example, clause 5.2.5 states, “The IB shall have available one or more person(s) as technical manager(s) who have overall responsibility to ensure that the inspection activities are carried out in accordance with this International Standard. If inspection activities are found not to have been carried out in accordance with the Standard the person having responsibility is to blame, even if they did not personally perform the non-compliant actions. Similarly, in clause 6.3.3 the inspection body is responsible for the determination of conformity even if it has subcontracted some of the activities, such as testing. The duty (responsibility) referred to here is a duty of the inspection body to its client for the inspection result. If the inspection result proves to be unreliable the inspection body is to blame (responsible), even if it can be proved that the subcontracted activities were the cause of the unreliable determination of conformity. Determination of blame (responsibility) for an action may or may not result in legal liability to pay for the consequences, depending on the legal system in the economy concerned and any contractual arrangements that may be involved.