At the end of another buoyant year within the Certification Sector as Director of System Certification Services (SCS) which brought many great memories and new friendships, as well as some personal challenges, it is only now that I have been able to reflect on the year gone by and start to look forward to the year ahead.
With high inflation, rising energy costs, wars, immigration arguments, post pandemic health infrastructure problems, civil unrest and widespread industrial action, as well as ongoing investigations into the actions of those in the highest offices, it is not surprising that in 2023, according to Carnegie UK, people with the lowest annual household income are more likely to not be able to afford enough food for everyone in their household or keep their homes adequately warm and are more likely to report poor health and mental health, whilst experiencing discrimination, feeling unsafe and reporting low levels of trust in appointed authorities.
Through development, collaboration and exploration it has been Society’s desire to generate improved living standards through the efficient use of resources resulting in the optimization of time. Time to use as we choose, whether in recreation, contemplation or relaxation for example. International Standards are designed to support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges, agreed by experts as the best way of doing something. Certification and audit activities can help verify that the relevant standards are implemented effectively.
The TIC sector aims to facilitate global trade, help solve problems and ultimately raise standards for the benefit of society. Across sectors however, despite best intentions organisations continue to get it wrong.
In GB workplace fatalities increased 10% in 2023 from 123 to 135 (Source: HSE).
In ROI workplace fatalities increased 53% in 2023 from 28 to 43 (Source: HSA).
In NI workplace fatalities decreased 47% in 2023 from 19 to 10 (Source: HSENI).
In 2023 significant fines have been imposed including Network Rail (£6.7M) for the 2020 derailment which caused 3 fatalities; Cappagh Public Works (£260k) for a serious crush injury in 2020 related to a failure to safely isolate waste plant & machinery during maintenance activities; and, in the same sector, Valencia Waste (£3M) after 2 fatalities in 2019.
Compounding the trust issues in the construction industry, consumer and public confidence has again been eroded with the widespread disruption and rework required in relation to the RAAC (Reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) problem were schools and other buildings were deemed unsafe due to the risk of structural failure.
2023 wasn’t all bad, but individually and collectively it appears there is work to do to balance the desire for growth with responsible business practices and sustainable or even circular economies. Hopefully the increase in demand for certification is indicative of a desire for more effective and efficient business practices.
In 2023, SCS celebrated World Quality Week 06-10 November which was about realising your competitive potential, and on April 28, World Safety & Health at Work day which championed the fundamental principle and right at work for a safe and health working environment.
For SCS, 2023 seen a 20% increase in our client base in expansion across GB & ROI, as well as strengthening the management team and initiating projects to enhance project offerings within the construction sector and for a number of different schemes which should hopefully be available in 2024.
Sustained good work has been evident from groups such as GIRI (Get It Right Initiative) for example, where events and research support their goals to engage stakeholders, change attitudes and create a culture where knowledge is shared, skills are improved, and errors are reduced. Additionally, whilst published and in effect in last year, 2023 has welcomed the widespread acknowledgment and adoption of BSi Flex 8670 and the accompanying PAS documents 8671, 8672 & 8673 related to Competence in the Built Environment, which have been designed to help industry meet the challenges set by the UK’s Building Safety Act and in particular, construction and management of in-scope High Risk Buildings (buildings at least 18 metres in height or at least 7 storeys with at least two residential units). The fragmented nature of the Construction industry should never be allowed to result in a disaster such as the Grenfell Tower fire again.
Subsequent to the General Assembly of the IAF (International Accreditation Forum) passing a resolution requiring mandatory registration of all accredited management system certificates on the IAF Certsearch database, IAF MD28 was published in October 2023 to enact the requirement from the application date of 26th October 2024. The positive result of this action is that all valid certificates will be verifiable through a centralised global database, in tandem with the UKAS Certcheck database. This will in time provide clarity for consumers and users of products and services who rely on certification to provide confidence in advance of procurement.
Remote auditing was further developed as an audit technique during the recent pandemic and UKAS and other ABs (Accreditation Bodies) developed guidance in order to navigate through the unforeseen circumstances but given the now known risk the ISO/CASCO committee on conformity assessment has been developing ISO/IEC CD TS 17012 Guidelines for the use of remote auditing methods in auditing management systems. The guidance document is intended to strengthen confidence in the use of remote methods for auditing management systems among customers, regulators, accreditation bodies, certification bodies, scheme owners, industry, employees, consumers, and other interested parties. Further developments in the project lifecycle, if not full approval, are envisaged in 2024.
A working draft study has been initiated by Technical Committee TC176 to review ISO9001:2015 Quality Management System Requirements. I’d expect a lengthy development period but with significant progress, perhaps to committee stage in 2024, with any future published revision applied with a transition period, normally 3 years. Any subsequent transition process will affect nearly 46,000 registered organisations in the UK & Ireland and it is muted that the new revision may include criteria such as sustainability and climate change within any new requirements, recognizing the impact of global changes since 2020.
2023 was apparently the hottest year on record (Source: Copernicus Climate Change Service Research). A few normative and technical requirement document/instruments have been published during the year to help address the various solutions identified to reduce the rate of global warming. ISO 14068-1 Climate change management — Transition to net zero — Part 1: Carbon neutrality was published in 2023 and it provides principles, requirements, and guidance for achieving and demonstrating carbon neutrality.
ISO17029 is the Conformity Assessment standard detailing General principles and requirements for Validation and Verification bodies, and whilst originally published in 2019 the IAF General Assembly Resolution 2023-27 confirmed Transition process from ISO14065. Environmental information statements, green fund loans, and other ‘Green claims’ are becoming more common place and those that rely on such statements are often confused by terms such as emission scopes and carbon neutrality etc., and so they look to rely on certification bodies to independently validate or verify organisational claims. No doubt 2024 will see further interest in this area.
New technologies have evolved which will no doubt accelerate along with the new digital era. Exoskeletal aids for mobility, lifting and even defence applications have been seen in operation whilst airbag technology has left the car and is now a wearable where an accelerometer and a gyroscope combine to activate the inflation of a cushion airbag in the event of a fall, with workplace and elderly applications. Who knows what innovations will emerge in 2024? We could certainly do with a breakthrough improvement in the power sector.
It is good to see Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) formalised in Standards and respect for Women’s needs being realised in standards for the workplace such as BS30416 (Menstruation, menstrual health and menopause in the workplace) and schemes such as CCS (Considerate Constructors Scheme) now including scoring criteria to encourage the construction sector to address Women’s specific Hygiene needs & PPE requirements on site.
Social Value is becoming prevalent in public works due to procurement policy, and whilst I feel this is the public purse outsourcing its duty to directly provide opportunity and invest in local communities, commercial enterprises are often more innovative and engaging and so hopefully this will filter into expanding diversity and regeneration of communities in which we work.
The major push toward awareness of the importance of Mental Health is laudable as is the continuing inclusion of clause-based requirements in standards such as ISO9001 (7.1.4) or Guidance as in ISO45003 (Managing Psychosocial Risks), but perhaps as a society we should collectively focus on identifying and reducing the stressors that are at the root of causing the spiralling prevalence of poor mental health, such a low pay, access to healthcare and quality housing etc.
Perhaps it may also be considerate to review the synergy of UK Government Targets such as Net Zero by 2050 and their compatibility with annual economic growth targets of 2.5%. Do we need more people focused indicators of success as a nation or society? Back in 2019 the UK was 14th in the Happy Planet Index which measures sustainable wellbeing across the globe. In 2023 the UK was 19th in World Happiness Rankings.
If anything is certain, there will be risks and opportunities for everyone in 2024 and so we will all have to be both resilient and agile, and for organisations, this implies both strategic thinking and a people centred approach. No doubt the continuing march toward globalisation and the associated demographic impact will present continuing challenges, but the controllables are that ‘quality’ costs and the first step in any product or service chain is recognising value. It would be refreshing if government (central and local) departments/buyers would allocate realistic budgets to projects and conduct effective procurement processes.
World Accreditation Day in 2023 was on 09 June with the theme being: ‘Supporting the Future of Global Trade’ focused on how accreditation supports the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 10, 14, and 17. 2024’s WAD will focus on ‘Empowering Tomorrow and Shaping the Future’.
SCS are positive that 2024 will be a successful year and we hope to help and give more back to the communities in which we work. We are forever thankful to all our clients and their representatives who put their trust in us to help them in their certification and improvement journey. I am also personally grateful for all the dedicated and professional people, colleagues and friends, that have helped make SCS fun, as well as the effective certification body it is today.
In the words of Michael J. Fox “with gratitude, optimism becomes sustainable”.
Managing Director- SCS