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ISO 9001 Registrars

2 December 2020

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Contrary to what many people believe, ISO 9001 certification is not granted by ISO but performed by independent third parties referred to as 'certification bodies' or 'registrars'. Choosing the right registrar for your organization is vital as they can play a significant role in the ongoing success of your quality management system. This article explains all you need to know about ISO 9001 registrars and how to choose one that's right for your company.

ISO 9001 Registrars

Given their importance to the success of your ISO 9001 certification and the long-term sustainability of your quality management system, it's important for you to be familiar with some basic facts about ISO 9001 registrars.

What Is an ISO 9001 Registrar?

A registrar is an independent certification body that audits an organization for compliance with ISO 9001 and issues the certificate of conformity. Registrars are private companies that operate in accordance with their accreditation regulations.

What Does a Registrar Do?

Registrars have one or more of their auditors perform compliance audits to assess the organization's conformity with ISO 9001:2015 requirements. These audits are similar to internal audits and include a review of documents and records, observation of work processes, and interviews of management and staff. If conformity with the standard can be established, the registrar issues the ISO 9001 certification.

Accreditation

ISO 9001 registrars must follow extensive regulations stipulated by their accreditation board. Registrars may be accredited to one or more accreditation schemes. In the case of multiple accreditations, clients may choose their preferred accreditation mark to be displayed on their certificate.

Certificates are generally valid for 3 years. After that, the certification can be renewed upon successful completion of a re-certification audit.

What Are Stage 1, Stage 2, and Surveillance Audits?

The initial certification audit is conducted in two steps. The first, the so-called Stage 1 Audit, is essentially a readiness review that comprises an assessment of your ISO 9001 documentation; some registrars add a pre-assessment of your operations (which essentially duplicates the next stage). After successful completion, your registrar conducts the Stage 2 Audit – the actual audit of your operations – to evaluate your quality management system for effectiveness and compliance with ISO 9001 requirements.

To maintain your certification it's necessary for your registrar to periodically conduct Surveillance Audits. These are typically scheduled every six to twelve months during the 3-year certification period. They are smaller in scope than the initial certification audit and typically only last about a third as long.

Nowadays Stage 1, Stage 2, and Surveillance Audits can be conducted remotely. Remote audits (also called 'virtual audits') provide similar benefits to on-site audits but are less expensive (there are no associated travel expenses).

Can I Change my Registrar?

It's common to hire a registrar for the entire 3-year registration period. However, you can transfer your certificate to another registrar during the this time and can renew it with a registrar of your choice.

Getting Certified by an ISO 9001 Registrar

The process starts with an organization entering into a 3-year contract with their chosen registrar. The contract includes the initial certification and periodic surveillance audits, conducted either remotely or on-site depending on your preference and the registrar's capabilities.

Prerequisites for the certification audit are your fully implemented ISO system, completion of an internal audit, and sufficient records to verify compliance. Some registrars stipulate a minimum number of months (often two) for the acquisition of records.

The certification audit is conducted in two stages. During the Stage 1 Audit, your registrar verifies your company's readiness for the full certification audit by examining documents (such as quality policy, scope, and procedures) and records (such as internal audit reports and minutes of management reviews). A few registrars include an entire pre-assessment audit, similar in scope and cost to the Stage 2 Audit. Stage 1 concludes with an audit report and request for correction of any nonconformities.

Upon satisfactory correction of any nonconformities, your registrar will conduct the Stage 2 Audit which comprises an assessment of your operations to verify that your ISO system is both effective and in compliance with ISO 9001:2015 requirements. The length of the Stage 2 Audit depends on your employee count per IAF MD5:2019 regulations. Small companies with 10 employees, for example, require 2 audit days.

Audit activities include the observation of work processes, interviews with workers , managers and executives, and a review of records. Audit findings will be presented in a closing meeting and in a formal audit report. A few minor nonconformities are normal, and you only need to show an acceptable plan for correcting them.

Complete breakdowns of your quality management system in one or more areas result in major nonconformities. Due to their severity, your registrar will conduct a follow-up audit to verify correction before recommending your company for certification.

Your certificate will be issued once all nonconformities have been addressed to the satisfaction of the registrar. The certificate will list any limitations of scope (for example, if you excluded departments or products), show the marks of the registrar and accreditation board, and the expiration date.

To retain certification your company needs to undergo a Surveillance Audit every 6-12 months. Surveillance Audits are similar to the Stage 2 Audit but take only one third of the time. While minor nonconformities are normal, major nonconformities could lead to decertification.

How to Choose the Right Registrar

Not every registrar is a candidate for your organization. It's vital to choose the right registrar for your business as they can play a significant role in the ongoing success of your quality management system. You might be tempted to just look at cost, but other factors should also be considered. Once you have narrowed down the number of registrar candidates, you may want to interview them by phone, video chat or email.

Cost

Costs for certification can vary widely. To a certain extent, the size of your organization determines the cost of the audit, but there are more factors that affect your overall cost.

Registrars base the number of auditor days on your employee count per IAF MD5:2019 regulations, then adjust that baseline to account for the complexity of your operations, the number of shifts, unusual operating hours, and the number of separate facilities. The cost per auditor day varies by registrar.

Additional cost components are travel expenses, the registrar's administrative fees and the accreditation fees for your registration. To reduce your costs, consider the following options:

Avoid travel expenses by requesting a remote audit.

Request a sampling plan if you have more than one physical location.

Skip the optional pre-assessment audit (if you feel the need for one, you'll get better value from our internal audit service).

The quotes you'll receive when using our free Registrar Finder are typically all-inclusive and cover the complete 3-year registration cycle, allowing for easy comparison of different registrar candidates.

Other Factors

When selecting your registrar, cost will likely be an important factor. However, there are other factors that should be taken into account as they will not only affect the overall time and expenses related to your ISO 9001 certification but also the quality and long-term success of your quality management system.

Accreditation: it's not only important that your registrar is accredited by a national accreditation body but also that the accreditation is popular in your market(s) and accepted by your customers.

Reputation: since the registrar's logo will be part of your certification mark, it's worthwhile to consider the registrar's reputation in your market(s).

Auditors: the experience and attitude of your auditors will have a big impact on your quality management system. An auditor who is easy to talk to and work with, who willingly shares their experience to help you address nonconformities, and who contributes with ideas and best practices, can add tremendous value.

Service: customer service and your point of contact, as well as online systems (for example, to manage nonconformities) should be considered.

Rules: don't forget to ask about rules governing the correction of nonconformities and changes of your auditors (continuity is usually a good thing but you should be able to request a different auditor if you desire).

The ISO 9001 Registrar Finder Tool

Use our free Registrar Finder and we'll do the pre-selection for you. Just enter your information and requirements, and you'll receive custom quotations from only those registrars that meet your specific requirements and match your company's circumstances. In addition, all registrars in our partner network are renowned certification bodies with impeccable reputation, world-class service, and helpful auditors.

The Final Choice

To make your final choice, we recommend you prepare a table of important criteria and fill in for each registrar candidate how they meet your criteria. Keep the table on file - it's an ISO 9001 required record. Clients who use our Do-It-Yourself ISO 9001 Certification Package will find a readily prepared registrar evaluation tool in the package, while our consultants will do all the legwork for those using our premium ISO 9001 Certification Service.

When to Select Your Registrar

Many organizations wait until their ISO 9001 system is fully implemented before they pick their registrar but you could appoint your ISO 9001 registrar even before you start with the implementation phase. Benefits of choosing your registrar early include:

You won't be rushed into making a choice.

You have a higher chance of getting certified in your desired time frame.

You have time to develop a working relationship with your auditors - which could prove useful during the certification audit.

You can ask your auditors questions regarding the ISO 9001 implementation (it might be beneficial to consider the auditor's view.)

Selecting the right ISO 9001 registrar for your unique company has important implications for your quality management system, its long-term success, but also the costs involved. The field is crowded with all kinds of registrars but now since you understand how they operate and what's important during the selection process, you are ready to choose the certification body that's right for you. Go right ahead and use our free Registrar Finder to get custom quotations from those of our partner registrars that meet your requirements and fit your company's unique circumstances.

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