In clause 4.1.3 of the standard reference is made to threats to impartiality arising from the inspection body’s relationships. Can you give examples of relationships which may constitute a threat to the inspection body’s impartiality?
Examples of relationships that could constitute a threat to the impartiality of the inspection body include: – Relationship with a parent organisation – Relationships with departments within the same organisation – Relationships with related companies or organisations – Relationships with regulators – Relationships with clients – Relationships of personnel – Relationships with the organisations designing, manufacturing, supplying, installing, purchasing, owning, using or maintaining the items inspected
Consider the case where an inspection body (IB) is a public enterprise that reports administratively to a Ministry. The Board and the Director General of the IB are appointed by the Ministry, and the IB reports financial results and overall performance to the Ministry. The Ministry requires assurance on the quality of grains, cereals and pulses for export and also requires an assurance of the same as imported into the country. The Ministry submits the sample to the IB, and following inspection, the inspection report is submitted to the Ministry for acceptance or rejection of the batch. The Ministry is the biggest client of the IB, with over 90% of the order volume coming from the Ministry.
Does this inspection body qualify as a type A inspection body?
The situation described is not acceptable for a type A inspection body.
The scope statement in ISO/IEC 17020 makes clear that one of the major aims of the standard is to ensure the impartiality and consistency of inspection activities.
According to ISO/IEC 17020, Annex A.1d) the following apply to inspection bodies type A: “The inspection body shall not be linked to a separate legal entity engaged in the design, manufacture, supply, installation, purchase, ownership, use or maintenance of the items inspected by the following: – Directly reporting to the same higher level of management, except where this cannot influence the outcome of an inspection – Contractual commitments, or other means that may have an ability to influence the outcome of an inspection.” In the case described the inspection body fails on both counts. i) The inspection body reports to the Ministry that has a critical role in the supply chain of the products inspected and has a very plausible path for exerting influence. ii) The contractual arrangement between the inspection body and the Ministry means that failing to follow directives from the Ministry could pose an existential threat to the inspection body or its senior management.
Two possibilities needs to be considered: a. Does the Ministry have a supplier interest by its role in the provision of grains, cereals and pulses? b. Does the Ministry have a user interest by its role in the provision of grains, cereals and pulses?
While the Ministry may or may not directly buy or sell the inspected products, the Ministry has a critical role in the supply chain of the inspected products as its declared role is to control imports and exports. a. The impartiality requirements are all about incentives that organizations have that might result in bias in the inspection activities. An organization that engages in the supply of grains, cereals and pulses has incentives to be biased toward a favorable outcome for the inspection activities. The Ministry’s declared objective is to assure that no substandard grains, cereals or pulses leave or come in to the country. However, Ministries implement policies that are essentially political and therefore the Ministry could plausibly have political motives to influence the results of inspections. For example, if the Government has pledged to reduce imports, to support local producers, there could be pressure on the inspection body from the Ministry to fail imported marginal products. b. For exports the Ministry has the declared interest of the user of these products in the foreign country, as the Ministry wants to assure these users never receive substandard products. However, if the Government has made commitments to increase exports, exerting pressure on the inspection body to pass marginal products would be a plausible means of increasing export tonnage without bringing in unpopular quality controls on producers. It would be naïve to believe that Ministries did not follow the direction of their Ministers, including wielding influence wherever possible to achieve the targets set for them.
As the Ministry appoints the senior management of the inspection body and presumably reviews their performance, there is a clear path for pressure to be applied. Also, in any economy, the possibility for a Minister to subtly apply pressure through the Ministries they oversee should not be disregarded.
From the description provided it is clear that the inspection body is not independent of the Ministry. In the situation described it seems that the inspection body and the client directly report to the same higher level of management. The situation that 90% of inspection orders are coming from the same source, means that there is a shared interest between the inspection body and its client. The circumstances described are such that they can influence the outcome of an inspection.
In clause 7.1.6 of the standard refers to “information supplied by any other party as part of of the inspection process”. Could you examples of what type of information this could be? Could it include inspection results?
Inspection results and information are two different things. Information can be supplied by “any other party”, but inspection results can only be supplied by subcontractors, as described in section 6.3.
Information as referred to in clause 7.1.6 is often supplied by the client. One example would be the owner of an offshore steel platform, providing structural drawings and design calculations identifying stress levels at extreme wave conditions to an inspection body contracted to plan and perform NDT of critical joints.
In bullet a) of Annex A.3 it is stated that the inspection body shall provide safeguards within the organisation to ensure adequate segregation of responsibilities and accountabilities between inspection and other activities. Could you example of such safeguards?
STANDARD: ISO/IEC 17020 · CLAUSE: Clause 4.1.6 · TOPIC: Independence Type C
Safeguards that ensure adequate segregation can include e.g. – organisational separation; – reporting arrangements; or – procedural practices that protect the inspection activities from undue influence arising from other potentially conflicting activities.
In clause 7.1.2 of the standard it is stated that the inspection body shall have and use adequate documented instructions on inspection planning and inspection techniques, where the absence of such instructions could jeopardize the effectiveness of the inspection process. Could you give examples of when such instructions would be required?
In our experience, the normal situation is that the absence of instructions can jeopardize the effectiveness of the inspection process. There could be a number of reasons for this, e.g.
– the inspection points/hold points need to be agreed before the inspection activity is initiated; – the choice of items or locations to be inspected cannot be considered random; – different local situations or characteristics of the items or locations to be inspected allow for a choice between different inspection techniques; or – adequate sampling requires advance planning and/or preparations.
In clause 5.2.2 of the standard it is stated that the inspection body shall be managed so as to enable it to maintain the capability to perform its inspection activities. What actions can the inspection body take to enable it to maintain the capability to perform its inspection activities?
In Clause 4.1.3 it is stated that if a risk to impartiality is identified, the inspection body shall be able to demonstrate how it eliminates or minimizes such risk. Does this mean that all identified risks need to be eliminated or minimised? What would be an adequate approach for an inspection body to manage identified risks?
The structure and processes used by inspection bodies in the management of impartiality threats varies with the size of, and services provided by, the inspection body. In smaller organisations specific threats may be identified, while in larger organisations threats may be clustered by source or type and treated “generically”. In larger inspection bodies, threats to impartiality may be addressed by multiple systems, with distinct and separate reporting processes. The standard does not nominate or preference techniques in the identification and response to threats to impartiality. Any response to eliminate or minimise a risk will leave a residual risk. The inspection body should be able to demonstrate how it established that the residual risk was acceptable and remains at an acceptable level.
An example of a suitable practice for the review of risks to impartiality would be to combine scheduled periodic reviews with ad-hoc reviews on receipt of advice regarding events potentially impacting the impartiality of the organisation. Such events may include organisational changes, new clients, the launch of new inspection services, new personnel arrangements or changes to scheme or regulatory arrangements.
A type A Inspection Body hires external inspectors (not exclusively) who are otherwise engaged in design or manufacture of products. These external resources are salaried and employed by a company engaged in the design and manufacturing of these products. The external inspectors perform a full inspection work with a complete judgment of conformity of these products. The IB doesn’t appoint these external inspectors to inspect products designed or manufactured by themselves or by the company which employs them. The IB appoints these external inspectors to inspect similar products which are designed or manufactured by other manufacturers. The IB argues that it complies with the requirements for type A independence of ISO/IEC 17020 (Annex A – A1 b/) and ILAC P15 (Annex A – Aa). Considering the application guidance provided in ILAC P15, is the situation acceptable?
STANDARD: ISO/IEC 17020 · CLAUSE: 6.1 · TOPIC: Type A independence
The situation described is not acceptable if the inspection has to be carried out by a type A inspection body, and if the similar designed or manufactured products referred to fall within a product category defined in the scope of accreditation of the inspection body. The requirements to independence apply equally to all personnel involved in inspection activities, whether external or internal to the CAB. In fact, there are no requirements in section 6.1 of the standard applying exclusively to internal personnel, as the standard is indifferent to the channel used by the CAB in contracting its personnel.
On the issue of whether the inspectors may be engaged to perform inspection of products similar to those produced by the organization where they are employed, the requirements in A.1b) apply. Here it is stated that “The inspection body and its personnel shall not engage in any activities that may conflict with their independence of judgment and integrity in relation to their inspection activities.” Working for an organization marketing competitive products to those subject to inspection may constitute such an activity. Further, in the 2nd sentence of A.1b) it is specified that “In particular, they shall not be engaged in the design, manufacture, supply, installation, purchase, ownership, use or maintenance of the items inspected.” ILAC P15 states that “The items in this case are those items that are specified in the accreditation body’s certificate/annex with respect to the accredited scope of the inspection body”. It follows that ILAC P15 expects that the field and range of inspection listed in the scope for accreditation provides information that suffice to define the item inspected as referred to in Annex A of ISO/IEC 17020. This means that if the products inspected, and the products produced by the organization employing the contracted inspectors, constitute the same object of conformity assessment thus specified in the scope of accreditation, then the requirement in the 2nd sentence of A.1b) applies.